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THE 

RAMBLES O? 

\N IDLER 



\BBC 



(* AUG ?/^ WA 



r 







l\ 



BOOIQSEa|Sg^ATlON»S 



THE RAMBLES 
OF AN IDLER 



BY 



CHARLES CONRAD ABBOTT, M. D., 
Author of "Days Out of Doora;* "Out- 
ings at Odd Times," etc. 



Happy is he who remains a free lance in 

the world of facts. 
He alone shall never want for thoughts. 




PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON 

GEORGE W. JACOBS & COMPANY 

PUBLISHERS 



Copyright, 1906, by 

GsoRGE W. Jacobs & Company, 

Published June, igo6. 



All Rights Reserved 
Printed in U. S. A, 



So 

JUNIUS S. MOEGAN 

An autumn walk afield, some years ago, made 
memorable by you, and which led to many a 
longer walk since, makes fit that, with your 
permission, i dedicate to you these desultory 
records of days out of doors, in which you have 
taken so lively an interest. 

C. C. A. 



PBBFACE 

Speak the word * idleness'* as harshly as yon 
may, still it falls softly on the ear. Whisper 
**work'' in yonr most dnlcet tones and still it is 
harsh. 

Idleness has its merit, therefore, bnt what of 
its significance? Its persistently claimed pur- 
port has been preached down so vigorously, that 
he is over-bold who would invite it to look up. 
It is true, nevertheless, that the average man 
labors that he may not labor. He looks to an 
earned idleness as his just reward. Why, in- 
deed, should he not? 

It is a favorite, but not demonstrable doc- 
trine, that idleness once attained, mischief 
follows. If so, one might well ask the value, 
to its possessor, of an average life. Then, too, 
why does the poet hold that it is 

Sweetest to dream, on easeful earth reclined, 
Far in some forest's ancient idleness, 
Under the shadow of its bossy boles, 

Beyond the world's pursuit and Care's access. 
And hear the wild feet of the elfin wind, 
Dancing and prancing in mad caprioles. 
V 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I venture to speak, in the following pages, of 
that idleness which leads ns not merely to touch 
the hem of Nature's garment, but to clasp her 
hand. 

Eagerness may make one clumsy in such an 
attempt and, though he succeeds to a personal 
satisfaction, yet, lacking grace, his ** impres- 
sions" had better fall back into the ranks of 
the unrecorded. Good advice this, but no one 
thinks of its personal application. 

To wander as Nature's guest, has been my 
aim ; alike in sunshine and in shadow, under the 
bright blue sky and when the storm-king as- 
serted his ugly strength; gathering a harvest 
that does not diminish, however frequent our 
call upon its store. 

Such harvest contradicts, it seems to me, the 
assertion often heard. 

Great the effort, great the gains; 
Idleness and naught remains. 

Argument savors of work and I eschew it. 
The days came, the days passed by, and be it 
for good or evil, I am yet able and very glad 

Under the shade of melancholy boughs, 
[To] lose and neglect the creeping hours of time; 
vi 



Preface 

and have no wish to look on better days, nor 
regret that I have 

Idled all my life away; 

Played with work and worked with play I 

I am often very much amused at some of the 
land-owners within the range of my rambles. 
I keep so far within bounds in all I do or say 
that I escape being regarded as a trespasser, 
but sometimes, judging from the impatient 
countenances of those I meet, I am looked upon 
as a fool. 

The best of what some land-holders have 
never actually becomes their own. They take 
nominal possession and I the actual ; and when 
in unguarded moments my enthusiasm leads to 
audible expression, they gape and wonder at 
what they hear, and, as I say, set me down for 
a fool. 

Let me enumerate : There is the beauty of a 
particular tree — the owner never saw the tree, 
perhaps; there is the mottled carpet where 
grass and moss alternate, and in season dainty 
flowers brighten the whole; there are the best 
points from which to view a sunset — how 
many only know that the sun goes down; and 

vu 



The Rambles of an Idler 



t&ere is the charm of a spot where the Indians 
had gathered and left imperishable traces of 
their one-time sojourn. I fill my pockets with 
many pretty pieces and march off, head up, the 
very lord of that particular speck on the broad 
map of, creation. The farmer-owner has his 
pork and corn, but the harvest I have gathered 
is beyond him. I do not ask permission; why 
should IT His cupidity might be aroused and 
I denied entrance. So I go on my way rejoic- 
ing as he goes on his. His the worry and the 
work to lift the mortgage ; mine the joy and the 
wholesome exercise to lift the relics. Who is 
the true owner of the land? 

I know a brook that never fails to sing, its 
home a cliff-side shaded by old trees. Ribboned 
clay and glistering white sand make the walls 
and floor of this enchanting spot, and many a 
bird tarries long to sound its praises. The 
winter sunshine lingers lovingly and the frost 
but ornaments with crystals the twigs of spice- 
wood and weights the unwilted ferns with 
gems. He who takes a mid- winter walk finds it 
an ideal inn. It is always full of good cheer. 
As an acre of ground it is my neighbor's prop- 
erty, but I have been its owner for many a long 

vui 



Preface 

year. To be sure, he can pitch its beauty into 
a cart and carry it off, and would, doubtless, to 
make a dollar; but I carry treasure from it 
every time I chance there and he is none the 
poorer. I hope his legal and my ideal interests 
will never conflict. 

He who walks to best advantage goes to the 
country empty-handed and so is free to bring 
back what he finds. To reverse this order is 
often walking to no purpose. To take one's 
town-troubles and town-interests into the fields 
to give them an airing, may do them good, but 
not yourself. Go as empty-handed and empty- 
headed as you can. Unload all your cares in 
the house or in the street and when the open 
country is reached, you are in a truly receptive 
frame of mind. You have an appetite for novel 
impressions. The natural replaces the artifi- 
cial so completely that, on returning, you scarce- 
ly know yourself, and find it hard to explain 
why so many really petty annoyances incident 
to town-life vex one so mightily. 

It is a comfort to know that always within 
reach is some nook or comer in Nature's realm 
where one's real self can come to the surface; 
so, when the chickadee warbles, Hear met you 

ix 



The Rambles of an Idler 



can whistle back to it, in the same earnest and 
fraternal spirit. Thus minded, the legal nice- 
ties of land-ownership will not intrude. Yon 
go about as Nature's guest and forget that any 
bull-dog may be on the look-out to defend its 
owner's sordid rights. Man mars not makes 
the landscape. The chances are, these crowded 
latter days, that he is Nature's enemy, not her 
friend, and certainly as he has waxed mighty in 
intellect, Nature holds him at arm's length with 
all her power. A product of her forces but a 
rebellious one that she never forgives and kills 
when she can. There should be no warfare, it 
is true, but there is, and in the end she con- 
quers. As dust she takes him up again and 
fashions something else or a new man; but if 
the latter, always with the hope that he may 
prove more of a success, seen from her point of 
view. 

But never mind man, alive or dead; let us 
hear what Nature has to say. The main pur- 
pose of an outing is to listen, to hear accurately, 
to heed implicitly. It is ill-bred to shout in her 
ears. She knows our needs, our limitations. 
She will point them out in time, and he who 
has been so far favored is fit for any company. 



Preface 

By permission kindly granted by the publish- 
ers, the ** Fresh' on the Ma'sh," ''I go a-May- 
ing,'' '*An Alpine Morning'' and **Eden: Past 
and Present," originally appearing in **Lippin- 
cott's Magazine," are here reproduced. 

O. 0» A* 

Three Beeches: Trenton, N. J. 



XI 



CONTENTS 

Chap. Paqb 

I. Impressions • • 1 

IT. Intebprbtations 124 

in. Peripatetic Meditations •••.... 152 

IV. Candor 192 

Y. The Excellence of Misfortune • • • . 204 
YI. Under the Oaks and Elsewhere • • • . 216 

VII. From Pillar to Post 264 

Index 301 



••• 

XUl 



Lord of Myself! No cares demand 

My tiine to troubling labor given; 

With day-dreams I go hand in hand; 

How oft for such an hour striven ! 
Now mine to have, to hold; to be 
From carking care, an hour free. 

Slave of stem eireumstanee no more. 
The purling brook a welcome calls. 
Mine now the green wood to explore. 
To rest where sunlight softly falls, 

Where shadows sport the oaks between, 
Where Nature's hand alone is seen. 

Mine to converse with happy bird. 

To listen, while its song uplifts; 

To outlook, trouble has not blurred 

Thither my soul full eager drifts. 

Lord of Myself ! Such hour as this. 
Incarnate grows man's fabled bliss. 



XIV 



The Rambles of an Idler 



CHAPTER ONE 

IMPBESSIOKS 

It is well to make sure of every passing 
thought. Later, it may prove the text of an 
effective sermon. The same is true of much 
that is suddenly recollected. Why the past re- 
turns, let the psychologist determine. If we 
can gather figs from such thistles, it is all that 
need concern the most of us. 

I have before me a fragment of a diary, dated 
''Fourth day, Oct. 1, 1800. '* Here is incon- 
sistency at the very outset. The language of 
the Quaker and the man of the world in one 
sentence. Does it mean my great-grandfather 
was a Friend on First Day and otherwise, 
through the week? 

He starts to drive from *' Abbott ^s Landing*' 
1 



The Rambles of an Idler 



on Crosswicks Creek to Maurice River, a long 
journey through ^Hhe Pines.'* He does not 
record a single interesting fact. Who cares if 
the wagon did break down? How very differ- 
ently I would have kept that record of a long 
ride! Would I? The environment of the cur- 
rent moment is the impelling force, and what 
has happened, happened necessarily. To go 
counter to the normal inclination is to fail. My 
great-grandfather was concerned with his own 
affairs and how was he to know he would have 
an inquisitive great-grandson? 

This sounds more reasonable than it really 
is. There are people to come as well as people 
now who are going and we who still live are 
not sufficiently inclined to leave some perma- 
nent traces of ourselves behind us. Did we do 
so, truth would more highly color history. 
There is now too much inference based upon a 
few facts. I can fancy my great-grandfather 
on his way to Maurice River, but how much 
better, oould I see him, thanks to vivid descrip- 
tion. But, do not find fault with our forbears 
and be indifferent to posterity. We are too 
prone to think what we have done or seen or 
heard is of no importance, and so to record it is 

2 



Impressions 



useless. It is always the other man who ought 
to do this; — and the other man thinks the 
same. He is not more capable as you suppose, 
A universal wrong impression goes the rounds 
and the result is ignorance where useful knowl- 
edge might have been. Did we know the past 
more correctly, we could the better enjoy the 
present and take care of the future. 

There lie two ways to every end, 
A better and a worse; 

and the better one is not to leave too much to 
the imaginations of those who will follow us. 

Could I, from body free, in shadow lurk, 
Methinks a useful lesson T could learn; 

Seeing my better self in love with work, 

From idle day-dreams, in disgust, would turn; 

Toiling in earnest, such a picture make, 

Would love my task for the appearance' sake. 

Just as every old town has one or more old 
streets, so there are peculiarly old places that 
escape for a long time the disastrous effects of 
the march of improvement. In the old town 
nearest by, there is a business centre — Infer- 
no 's gate, and a residential section — a long 

3 



The Eambles of an Idler 



way aff from Paradise regained. The former 
is too like rotten fruit; the latter too like that^ 
which is green. Neither is to my liking, so I 
pass them by. Good, matured fruit, such as de- 
lights me, I found in a back street, an old thor- 
oughfare but little travelled now. Too far 
from business, thinks the merchant and the land 
is not sought for warehouses. Nobody that is 
anybody lives here, comments the newly-mar- 
ried woman and she passes it by. Happy side 
street ! Fortunate, truly, in the neglect shown 
it. It rejoices, in its calm, dignified way, in 
an old house; one with oak beams and honest 
walls, with a fire-place instead of a stove-pipe 
hole ; a house with an odor of antiquity, which 
is vastly preferable to the odor of sanctity; and 
here lives David Pickup, dealer in Old Furni- 
ture. 

It was by mere chance that I passed that way, 
a happy impulse due to the fact that here I had 
played full fifty years ago. The old occupant 
of the house has long been gone. David is a 
comparatively new comer. I was struck by the 
name stenciled on the little sign above the door. 
Such a name ! and that too coupled with such a 
business. I was so far interested that I made 

4 



Impressions 



excuse to enter the little shop and this initial 
visit has led to many since. 

My trips to town now have a rational pur- 
pose. I go directly to Pickup's, that I may get 
deeper into the country. Here more than any 
other place that I know of, centre the relics of 
more than one century. The shop is the Para- 
dise of old tables, sideboards, desks and chairs. 
Here, their wrongs are righted at last and they 
are given new leases of life as rewards of merit. 

Banished for fancied uselessness or ill-looks 
—"out of style" as silliness declares — to gar- 
ret or cellar, or put to plain uses that tried all 
its strength, this uncomplaining furniture is 
recognized at last at its original and still true 
value and a wiser owner restores it to its place 
of honor. 

David Pickup himself is old in all things save 
in years. He loves his work, and his knowl- 
edge of furniture, its history, method of manu- 
facture, and materials used, is far more exten- 
sive than that of many writers on the subject. 
How like a professor before his class, would he 
pick up a piece of wood, dust it with his shirt 
sleeve and call attention to the beauty of the 
grain. '* There is mahogany worth having"; 

5 



The Rambles of an Idler 



**here is real bird's-eye maple"; or ** cherry- 
trees are not old enough now to have wood like 
this, red as blood;" or ^^ here's cedar that is 
cedar, not faded yet and sweet smelling." 
More or less of all this would he say in a most 
impressive manner; and less often, he would 
lay down his saw or plane and seating himself 
in a chair I have long coveted, throw his arms 
back to support his head and exclaim with great 
animation, 

'^Wood, like wine, improves with age, if 
properly cared for and what strange stories 
these old things could tell, desk or chair, that 
is, if they could only — ," then glancing at the 
little clock, he would start up, saying, **Phew! 
I've no time to waste." 

David Pickup is not an extraordinary man, 
but his remarks are always timely and that is 
being next door to a philosopher. He is not 
original, but then, the world has not had a 
brand new set of ideas in a thousand years, and 
as far back as that plagiarism was not uncom- 
mon. David makes excellent use of the old set 
phrases ; better use than does the crowd as you 
meet it. At least, he never speaks an unneces- 
sary word and when my visit ends, I find I can 

6 



Impressions 



carry home his conversation as easily as I can 
recall, if I desire, the aromatic atmosphere of 
his shop. These visits are, indeed, like going 
back and seeing what once was, and was for the 
better too, instead of hearing or reading his- 
tory. To be your own great-grandfather for 
an hour and face solid wood instead of veneer, 
is an experience worth the trouble that it costs. 
I was not the only casual visitor. More than 
one old man of the neighborhood had found 
David's shop, and when, one dreary November 
afternoon, I heard mention of the recent high 
water in the Assunpink Creek, I recalled and 
recounted, as best I could, the story I had heard 
of a flood of long ago, as told at the cross- 
road's comer near my home. 

Along the north wall of the smithy ran a low 
seat giving comfortable room to four people. 
It was far enough away to avoid the sparks 
from the anvil and, having a sunny, southern 
outlook, was the chosen spot where four old 
men of the village were wont to gather every 
bright winter day. Job Stillcreep was the dean 
of this little faculty, in whose keeping were the 
traditions of the neighborhood, — a long-settled 

7 



The Rambles of an Idler 



one, yet never having suflScient vigor to outgrow 
the primitive conditions of its Colonial days. 

The winter was drawing to a close, and the 
current topic of all was the signs of spring. 
As it usually happened, in whatever was dis- 
cussed, Job was not in agreement with his hear- 
ers. Whatever they suggested as surely in- 
dicative of the season's end he vigorously criti- 
cised, not that there was no basis for such a 
view, but because he had not hit upon it in ad- 
vance of others. To-day it was another matter 
altogether, and one where agreement might be 
looked for, but Job was not even now in an 
acquiescent mood. 

*'I never know'd a higher fresh' on the ma'sh 
than this last one," remarked Benjamin Good- 
wheat, ^'an' it beats all creation where sech a 
lot o' water comes from." 

''Then you didn't see the fresh' o' '41," re- 
plied Job. ''I was nineteen that winter, and 
what with duckin' and mus'-rattin', didn't do 
much loafin'. The spring afore I foUered 
fishin' above Perriwig Bar, but ol' man Biles 
was too contrary when the shad didn't run well, 
and sort o' laid it on us boys for not workin' 
the net right. I kicked an' we had it hot, an' 

8 



Impressions 



a'ter a tongue-lashin' he gaye me I got out. It 
wasn't what I wanted. His da'ter Nance drew 
me more'n the pay I was gettin' an' he know'd 
it; so he gave me to understand I needn't keep 
Loafin' round. But I did see Nance more'n 
once, an' she didn't side with the ol' man. I 
kep' up heart an' worked on the farms 'round 
till fall came an' saved every penny I got. 
'Long late in the summer I laid 'em out for a 
good gun an' fixin's an' turned to huntin'. 
Hides was a good price and Sammy Quicksall 
took all the ducks I shot at a fair figger. 
Things went on purty well till about Christmas, 
when I got restless-like for Nance and couldn't 
f oiler any thin' fur thinkin' o' her. You know 
how lads is when they get this way real bad, 
and that was me fur sure. 

''I tho't it over, and says I, 'I'll go see the 
ol' man and make up if I can.' I went over 
from Duck Island to his house, but he seen me 
a-comin' and comes out, warnin'-like, and or- 
ders me off. He 'lowed he'd all his hands en- 
gaged. I said I was sorry, but up and square 
told him that wasn't what I came fur, but to 
keep steady comp'ny with Nance. Says I, 'I've 
a bit laid up, and can work steady as a farm 

9 



The Rambles of an Idler 



hand all summer and f oiler gunnin' and trap- 
pin' fall and winter.' He wouldn't listen. I 
kep' a-jawin' and all the time edgin' towards 
the house. I seen Nance standin' in the door, 
lookin' sort o' smilin' like, and that kep' up my 
courage more'n the ol' man's gab kep' me down. 

^^Gettin' near enough, I says, ^Who do you 
favor, Nance?' 

'*She up and says, ^You, Job, 'cause you're 
fair and square and Daddy's no reason to go 
ag'in'you.' 

^^You never saw a madder man than ol' man 
Biles. 

" *I ain't goin' ag'in' you. Daddy,' says 
Nance, ^but I can't help my favorin' Job. You 
know he's as good as any young feller 'round, 
and nobody's got nothin' ag'in' him.' 

**I wanted to up and kiss the gal right there, 
but just held off a bit. 

^* ^Get out o' here !' hollers the ol' man to me. 
^Go in the house !' he hollers to Nance. 

* ^ ' Not much, ' says I. * I 'm in the public road 
jus' at present and committin' no breach o' the 
peace. But by the eternal racket,* says I, 4f 
you're rough with Nance in my hearin', either 
with your hand or your tongue, there'll be 

10 



Impressions 



trouble in the road or oflf o' it, as it happens 
where you be/ 

'* ^ni get a warrant out fur ye fur threat- 
eninV says the ol' man. 

''Now, warrants is a nuisance. They're apt 
to interfere with your plans, so I sings out, 
'Good-by, Nance!' and got out. She waves a 
bit o' ribbon and then said somethin' I didn't 
catch, but I 'lowed it was all sweety words, and 
so went away cheerful. 

''It took me a couple o' weeks to get settled 
like. I couldn't plan nothin', seein' Nance was 
out o' reach. I'd a notion fur a house on the 
Island, but Nance might like one on the Manor 
shore. I got all upsot, and says I, 'I'll see 
Nance, spite o' the ol' man.' 

"That very day it started in a-rainin'. The 
wind got 'round to the s'uth'ard and snow and 
ice melted all in no time. Thinks I, 'There'll 
be a fresh'.' Then I tho't o' Nance. The ol' 
man's house was too close to the river shore 
for safety, anyhow. More'n once the water had 
lapped over the front step, and in '39 it was on 
the first floor. There was no crossin' the river 
in a boat, so I went up to the bridge and walked 
down on the Manor side. The water kep' 

11 



The Eambles of an Idler 



a-comin' up and up, and I know'd trouble was 
a-brewin* for the folks in the low lands. Talk 
about streaks o* luck! Tore I reached Biles 's 
I seen a strange boat with oars in it comin' 
down stream lodged in some bresh. I know'd 
it was from up the river, so I'd a right to take 
possession, an' you bet, I did. ^If,' says I, *if 
the ol' man's ugly, I'm here to watch out for 
Nance, if he won't have 'sistance from me.' I 
had to wade to get the boat and was wet 
through, then and there, an' shakin' with cold, 
but that wasn't nothin'. 'It was all for Nance,' 
says I, and I work'd 'long the edge of the water 
like till I got to the big net-frame, and then I 
hollered. 

** 'Who be ye?' hollered the ol' man back. 

'' 'Me, Job,' says I, and then Nance show'd 
at the winder. She was teary-like 'round the 
eyes, it sort o' seemed to me, tho', course, I 
couldn't see her real plain that far away. 

" 'Goin' to stay in there?' I hollered, not 
goin' up to the house. 

" 'You can give your help where it's wanted,' 
hollered the ol' man, and slammed the door. 

"That there settled it for me. '01' man or 
no ol' man, Nance ain't goin' to be drowned, if 

12 



Impressions 



he means to be/ says I, and rowed up as near 
as I could get. 

** * Don't you come no furder/ hollers the oP 
man. 

*'I didn't holler back, but pulls ashore and 
goes 'round the blind side o' the house. Nance 
know'd if she didn't a-see me, and luck had it 
ag'in, for the ol' man kep' his eye on the river. 
When I got back o' the house I made a motion 
to come out, and Nance opened a little winder 
and waved her hand. Wake snakes! but my 
heart giv' a thump, and I know'd then I was in 
for biziness. I crep' up along the garden fence 
and got real close. She saw and said, softly- 
like, she couldn't dim' thro', an' Daddy would 
ketch her if she opened the back door. 

** * Ketch or no ketch,' says I, *an' I'll tend 
to Daddy,' says I, and fust I know'd, she was 
out o' doors and I grabb'd her. 'Fore the ol' 
man saw she was in the boat, and thar he came 
a-hoUerin'. You never saw a madder man than 
the ol' man was. He hollered, *Oome back!' 
but she knew it was for her life she was runnin', 
an' we put out into the river. 

**It was fool-work, sure enough, but I was 
only a fool of a chunk then, and tho't only o' 

13 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Nance and nothin* o' nothin' else. A young 
feller in love, you know, ain't apt to be over- 
burdened with common sense. Fust, I know'd 
we was in swifter water than I could tackle. 
The way we rush'd 'long was a caution, an' all 
there was to do was to keep out o' the way o' 
logs and bresh-wood; but no use, a tree came 
quicker 'n we were goin', an' we got fetched up 
in the branches. The tree took a roll like in a 
minute, and sort o' lifted the boat out o' the 
water, an' there we sat, ridin' in a way that 
was goin' faster 'n pleasant. If the tree took 
another roll, we were goners, that was plain, 
an' I up an' says so. 

** * Job,' says Nance, * if it's God's will, so be 
it. If we can't live together, we can die to^ 
gether, an' that's better 'n livin' apart.' 

** Didn't I feel queer-like! That woman sit- 
tin' there like one in a pictur jus' made me grit 
me teeth, grip me oars, an' wait. I kep' one 
eye on the water and one on her, and 'fore I 
know'd it the tree giv' a lurch, an' the boat, 
'stead o' upsettin', was free ag'in. Didn't I 
pull for the Jersey shore then, an' Nance didn't 
look like herself, but more'n ever like a pictur. 
It was gettin' dark like, and the Bordentown 

14 



Impressions 



lights begin to show out shiny. I pull'd till 
'most my arms giv' out and then got into where 
it was easier rowin', but we was tangled up with 
rubbish in the mouth o* the creek an' there we 
stuck, movin' slowly out into the ma'sh. Logs, 
trees, housel-goods, sech a mess, an' all there 
was to do was to drift. Nance got sort' o' 
shiverin' but said nothin', but I heard her teeth 
chatterin' and I took off my coat and put it over 
her. 

**She was cryin' like too, but I says nothin'. 
I seen a chance to get clear, I tho't , an' I pushed 
and poked with the oars and sort o' got out of 
the worst of it and a bit nearer the shore. 
Then I hollered. Folks had seen us. We was 
still out o' reach for a time, but gettin' nearer, 
and soon a feller flung a rope and, pullin' on it, 
we got near enough to step over logs and get 
ashore; but it wasn't easy. Nance was that 
weak she had to be held up like, and once down 
we went clean up to our necks. It was nip and 
tuck then, but a man got out to us and we car- 
ried Nance, a dead weight, to the shore at last. 
Women folks took her into the house, so they 
could look after her, and I give out for once. 
I was nigh about as near gone as Nance was, 

15 



The Eambles of an Idler 



but a swig o' rum sort o' Bot me up, an' that was 
the last swig ever passed my mouth." 

** Passed it outside!" asked Benjamin, inter- 
rupting Job for the first time. 

^^No, inside, an' here I be, eighty-one an' 
what the minister calls a livin' monniment to 
lettin' rum alone. 

^*As I was savin', I was over the wust of it 
an' sot by the stove to dry off. But I did 
more'n that. I fell asleep an' slep' an' slep' 
till it was way on in the nex' day. When I 
woke I was lyin' on a settee by the stove, an' 
the fust I said was, * How's Nance! ' 

**The men 'round said nothin' an' a woman 
was a-cryin'. Says I, 'What is it! You're 
boun' to tell me.' But they says, 'Keep still. 
Job, an' don't let her hear you.' 

''Says I, 'Then she's livin',' an' I sort o' fell 
asleep ag'in. But not for long. I heered a 
scream an' was on my pins in a second. I made 
for the room she was in, and sech a sight ! She 
was white as a snowbank an' wild-like 'round 
the eyes. Says I, 'Nance, be ye right ag'in!' 

"She only says, 'Job,' and fell right back'ard. 
Then I got settled like an' felt I was Job Still - 
creep, sound and hearty. I never left Nance 

16 



Impressions 



moreen a minute or two all that day, an^ the 
Doctor said she was mendin', an' she did. See- 
in' me set her right, for she'd a notion I was 
drowned. It didn't take long to come 'round, 
an' we both were up an' ready to be doin', only 
she was baby-like and took hold o' cheers and 
tables sort o' when she moved around. We 
was in good hands, an' says I, * Nance* now 
you're 'round ag'in, I'll go look up your 
Daddy.' 

**She gives a jump at that an' up an' give me 
a smack I can hear the noise of yit. The 
women 'round sort o' laughed, an' Nance got 
red an' says, *He's aimt it, if ever a man did.' 

** 'Them words is worth goin' it all over ag'in 
for', says I, an' I went out with the fellers to 
see the sights. The water was down a good 
bit, an' I borrow 'd a skiff an' was for goin' 
over to the ol' man's, but they said it was no 
use. His house was gone down the river an' 
no one had heard o' him. 'Keep it from 
Nance,' says I, an' I went just the same. It 
was a tough pull, but I got there. The ol' man 
was a-walkin' up and down where the house 
used to be, an' when he seen me, about a hun- 
dred yards off he stopped a bit and then up 

17 



The Eambles of an Idler 



with a gun an' levelled it. I dropped into the 
boat as he blazed away, an' the shot rattled 
'round but didn't hit me. I let the boat drift, 
peepin' over the gunnel. He loaded ag'in and 
fired, but I was too far off, an' then I seen two 
men a-runnin' an' they swung their arms 'round 
an' held him an' drug him away. I went back, 
sort o' worried-like, an' up an' told Nance all 
about it. 

*^Says she, 'We'll go over there together,* 
says she, an' sech a look in her eyes I never 
seen afore. She wouldn't take no from no one. 

** 'Are you a-f eared, Job?' says she. 

*'Says I, 'No,' an' we went. There was no- 
body 'bout when we got there, an' we didn't 
know rightly jus' where to go, but soon we saw 
the ol' man a-comin'. He'd slipped away from 
the folks as was a-keepin' an eye on him, an' 
Nance and me stood there together. He was 
gone clean daft. There was no look o' sense 
in his eyes, an' he wouldn't say nothin'. 

" 'Daddy,' says Nance, 'don't you know 
me?* 

" 'No,' says he, and then he looked wild at 
me, an' Nance begin a-cryin' and callin', 'Dad- 
dy', 'Daddy.' 

18 



Impressions 



'*I hollered *Help,' half-fearin^ trouble, and 
the men came a'ter the oV man a-runnin\ 

*^Says I, ^Go for the minister if he be in 
reachinV an' they look'd at me, wonderin', but 
one of 'em went oflf. We four what was left 
stood there a-waitin', an' it seemed as if the 
day'd be gone 'fore t'other one come back, but 
he show'd up as the sun was a-settin' an' the 
minister with him. 

** *Be it you're willin', Nance and me '11 get 
married,' says I. *It's best for the ol' man an' 
us too, I'm thinkin'.' 

*^ ^Really,' says the minister, *but this is most 
unusual, and really I must — ' 

*^I cut him short. ^This is no place for 
preachin', nor time neither. It's marryin' I'm 
in for, an' ask Nance if she's agreed to it.' 

*^The minister looked sort o' kerflummixt, but 
says he, stammerin' like, ^Miss Biles, is it your 
wish, under these remark 'ble circumstances!' 

*^She up an' says *Yes,' and lookin' at her 
daddy says, * Daddy, don't you say so?' 

*^The ol' man didn't say nothin', but kep' 
a-lookin' sort o' wild like. 

** *I'll take care of 'em both,' says I, *an' it 
might as well be here as anywhere, an' the 

19 



TJie Eambles of an Idler 



sooner the better.' The long an' short of it is, 
the minister married me and Nance, with them 
two men to witness it, an' he give ns his blessin' 
an' I giv' him a dollar. Then we stood there a 
minute, feelin' foolish like, I s'pose, not knowin' 
what to say, when the ol' man holler 'd, nat'ral 
like, * Nance, don't leave mel' 

^* Nance sprung on his neck like a cat on a 
sparrer an' most knocked him over. 

**The light come back in the ol' man's eyes 
an' he shook like a leaf in the winter-time. He 
held out his hand an' I took it, an' then, some- 
how, everything look'd brighter, an' Nance cried 
an' laughed till I tho't she would go crazy. 
The ol' man cross 'd the river with us an' we 
went to where me an' Nance had been stayin\ 

**We soon got to work ag'in where the 
ol' man's house had stood, an' put up a bigger 
an' better one, an' did well that spring a-fishin', 
and then I settled down an' staid there till two 
year ago, when Nance * crossed over,' as the 
minister said at the funeral, an' I'll soon f oiler 
an' hope I'll see her on t'other side. That was 
a fresh' on the ma'sh, in '41, sech as I never 
seen afore nor since." 



20 



Impressions 



Walking has ever been a favorite theme with 
the essayist, and many a philosopher, too, has 
given it such attention that in these days when 
originality seems exhausted and literary deca- 
dence to have taken firm hold of the intellectual 
world, whoever refers to the subject should be 
careful that what he may say as his very own 
thought proves not to be a crippled echo of an- 
cient eloquence. His only excuse will be that 
an echo may have value. If we cry out and the 
echo is heard, we may get a reply as promptly 
as if the original utterance fell upon the ear. 
Whether or not it proves an oft-told tale, I 
would speak of walking. 

The peripatetic can point to Aristotle and no 
one can refer to a higher authority for aught he 
does; and the peripatetic who has Nature for 
companion is likely to prove the equal, in life's 
tug of war, of any automobile citizen who be- 
lieves that haste is the chief end of man. Be- 
cause we associate life with motion and absence 
of it with death, the former is not necessarily in 
proportion to activity. Crystals are now said 
to be alive, yet we cannot see them move. 
Comets, on the other hand, are dead, yet for- 

21 



The Eambles of an Idler 



ever in motion. As in so much that concerns 
mankind, there is a happy medium. It can be 
set down as a rule that the walking man thinks, 
and as he thinks, so does he walk. This is 
Nature's law, not man's. The contemplative, 
the angry and the frightened man are readily 
distinguished by their walk. 

The fact that the definition of ** walking,'' as 
set forth in the various dictionaries, has to do 
with locomotion, does not set aside the far more 
important fact that we need not walk a great 
distance to become far-traveled. It all depends 
on what our interest centers. A wayside pool 
of insignificant dimensions might keep one stir- 
ring for a dozen years. Nature deals in riddles 
as well as in plain print. 

But, is this walking! 

It is breathing the fresh air. It is having 
moss or grass to tread upon. It is standing 
more than sitting. It is motion more than rest. 
It is the best of all the good things Nature 
offers. You may call it not walking, but, if so, 
it is a splendid substitute and the happy result 
is that we gradually cease to be strangers in a 
strange land; for until we know the world in 
which we live, we are simply tolerated guests. 

22 



Impressions 



When knowledge replaces ignorance we are less 
guests and more companions. If we cultivated 
earth-knowledge as we do artificiality, and 
spent with weeds and rocks the time that is 
given to vain speculation concerning the un- 
knowable, Dame Nature and **Homo sapiens" 
would be better friends. Man has been on the 
earth for many thousands of years, but has not 
yet reached to the years of discretion concern- 
ing this planet. 

When we think of the pebble that obstructs 
our step as but an obstacle to easy going, and 
toss it contemptuously aside, we are not walk- 
ing to good purposes; but if the pebble com- 
mands pur attention, if we see it as a fragment 
of a great bed of rock, if we see that it has been 
rounded by water action, rolling for ages in 
the bed of a stream, then we are walking, and 
the mere movement of the lower limbs is the 
least part of it. Walking calls for our head as 
well as our heels. 

I remember that when a child and sent upon 
an errand, I was told not to loiter. But I did. 
I learned to loiter as I learned to walk, and re- 
joice now that parental instruction was not fol- 

23 



The Eambles of an Idler 



lowed to the letter. I remember finding, half 
a century ago, a great cluster of butterflies on 
a little bush, and I stayed and played with them 
until it began to grow^ dark. The errand was 
quite forgotten, and of course there was a grand 
commotion at home, but what of itf I was only 
learning to walk. I remember, later, walking 
farther and farther into a dense swamp until 
the sun was near to setting and then finding 
myself out of it, but in strange fields. I had 
wandered wherever interest pointed and had no 
thought of fatigue or fear, and was fresher 
when found than were those who were search- 
ing for me. Such methods of learning to walk 
may be open to objections, but no others are as 
eflfective. If eyes and ears do not play their 
part, the little the legs do goes for nothing. 

Walking calls also for the exercise of mem- 
ory. The earlier walk recalled will throw light 
on the later one. The inexplicable of yester- 
day, seen under disadvantage, is plain to-day 
when the conditions are more favorable. The 
unfamiliar chirp that we heard may be a more 
elaborate song the day following and what was 
then a vexing mystery is now a pleasing fact. 

24 



Impressioiis 



The bird in full song and in full view, we recog- 
nize when as a chirping imp in the shadows it 
only piqued our curiosity. We are never sure 
of some small plants until we see them in 
bloom, and the day of their flowering follows 
that of being in leaf. We always need two 
walks and often more to make sure of any fact. 
We need to walk day after day to learn the pre- 
ordained method of Nature and the earlier out- 
ings must not be blanks to us when the climax 
of the season is finally reached. 

We look for exertion to be rewarded and all 
know that fortune earned is better appreciated 
than wealth without effort. The best inheri- 
tance is a desire to succeed. The silver spogn 
that accompanies a birth may overweigh the 
infant. The walk that is most successful is 
that which better equips us for another like 
undertaking. Walks should be a series of ex- 
ertions, with a reward awaiting them at their 
close. The fact takes hold when we face it, but 
not always when we merely hear or read about 
it. We may read all the natural histories ever 
written, and then, going out of doors, continu- 
ously be asking ourselves. What is this that I 
see? 

25 



The Rambles of an Idler 



And this going out of doors must be as Na- 
ture intended, on foot. We must walk, not ride, 
across the plain and wade the brooks and thread 
the tangled wildwood that lie between us and 
the mountain. We are then equipped to realize 
the whole purport of the rising ground, and 
when at last we reach its base we must proceed 
step by step, yet climbing ever higher and 
higher, and by this means secure that alertness 
of all our senses which is called for when, at the 
sunmiit, the world lies spread before us, in order 
to get not only an intelligent but a comprehen- 
sive view of it. 

This I conceive to be walking in its entirety, 
and is far removed from mere exercising of 
ambulatory muscles. The latter may be a rem- 
edy for rheumatism, but never for ignorance. 
The advocate of muscular pedestrianism might 
with perfect consistency rest his head on the 
ground and let his heels wave in the air as the 
most important part of him. 

To admit the logic of the **unco guid,*^ to 
be wool-gathering, rather than forever occu- 
pied with the stem facts of life, is to go astray, 
but I contend it is a sin worth sinning. It is 
but a brief and blameless existence in an ideal 

26 



Impressions 



world, one where fruit is all sweet, flowers all 
fair, the weather a succession of Maydays, 
where all wrong is righted and pain unknown. 
All this, at least, I find is the substantial un- 
substantiality of a winter-day walk and wool- 
gathering. 

It is significant that we can speak of walking 
in winter in a confident manner. When the 
south wind tempers the icy breath of the north, 
I go a- walking and a-wool-gathering by the way. 
I have a clear vision of what was replacing 
everything which is. Every blot upon the land- 
scape fades. A bird's song now is the reviving 
echo of dead music. When the earth was 
younger, I fancy it must have been fairer. It 
matters nothing that this may be false. What 
I now see is very real, though it does not exist. 
One gets outside of himself when wool-gather- 
ing and is not to be measured by a common- 
place standard. 

This winter day: there never was another 
more perfect. I have the crested tit for my 
authority. Its song may not have changed 
since June, but it sings now for its own enter- 
tainment and not for its mate. Perhaps it, too, 
is wool-gathering and is now not the master, but 

27 



The Eambles of an Idler 



the slave, of thought. Surely, very suggestive 
of meditation is its song to-day. Howsoever 
this may be, its music moves me. I am as re- 
sponsive as the vane to the passing breeze. A 
few, clear, fife-like notes escape the tangle of a 
vine-clad nook and the keen air trembles as if 
the wind had whispered. They bring to mind 
the magic of May, of spring-tide life and all 
that filled life's goblet to the brim. An empty 
glass now and overturned, yet who, when it was 
held aloft, thought he could drain it? Youth 
laughs at Father Time. 

Now, almost mute the sparrows in the field, 
but still I hear their fragments of a song. 
Wherein can lie the pleasure of a vain regret! 
Vain to review the past, as they seem doing. 
Vain to shout in ears that do not hear. I smile 
now to think of that perfect world which that 
untaught youth beheld; but the crested tit, so 
earnestly it sings, seems not to mourn over 
joys it has tasted. It rejoices in the recollec- 
tion thereof; so it may be better, after all, to be 
wool-gathering than overly serious. It is well 
occasionally to play the fool. Wisdom should 
not be allowed to drain the under-current of 

28 



Impressions 



humor. Eemain flexible enough to laugh. 
Knowledge should not become a dead weight. 

The fitful sunshine seeks the whistling bird. 
The glint of sunbeams stirs its responsive pulse 
and a yet livelier song comes up the gjen. I, 
too, am stirred. A sun-lit summer moment has 
returned. The woods are lovelier than they 
were anon, the water sparkles where it has been 
dull. The bird's song is a voice silent long 
years — a cloud passes, the tit murmurs but a 
single note. The past is past, indeed ; the pres- 
ent faces me as a grim fact. Life plays many 
a prank upon our peace of mind. 

The birds are not always with us in winter 
and peopling such vacuous days is a dangerous 
pastime. We cannot choose our companions 
and how often more the unwelcome than the 
welcome guests. Eegret, the aftermath of ill- 
bom thought, fills the vast charnel-house of 
days gone by. The breeze that stirs the few, 
dry, rotting leaves remaining tells us that sum- 
mer has been, but are we the wiser! What 
might we not have learned: how little knowl- 
edge has been added to our store. We recall 
the pricking of the thorns, with all the attend- 
ant pain and sorrow, but have no roses to show. 

29 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Ever the old story, more reason to lament than 
to exult. 

But, preaching to the winds ! Either I hear 
winter's little yellow tree-toad or Time is rumi- 
nating in a muttering way. One or the other, 
and I, too, ^^chew the cud of sweet and bitter 
fancy,'* for these are the perfected days of 
winter and both meditation and exertion are 
called for. Labor is set to music and we can 
both sing its praises and practice its precepts. 
1 am standing now on the sunny side of an old 
tree wondering what next to do. 

Old tree^ — do they wool-gather? 

Three or more hundred years ago this way- 
side chestnut was a trail-side tree. Does it 
think now of those who passed when it wore a 
greener crown and does it deign to notice the 
toiling, overanxious crowd that daily passes! 
As all that is left of a one-time forest, the tree 
alone concerns me. Why? To-day, like the 
poor, we have always with us, but it is not al- 
ways that we have the past. Here lies the 
charm of a wool-gathering stroll. This tercen- 
tenarian chestnut has a word only for those 
who look backward; and the trail, the Indian, 

30 



Impressions 



and the wild beasts of the boundless woods are 
pictured to the mind. The tamed, stale, flat and 
unprofitable actual outlook utterly fades away. 
I, for one, verily see the past brought back 
again. The highway is no longer the throbbing 
artery of ceaseless trade. I tread upon moss, 
not the bare earth, and then, rested, walk as in 
a dream. It is now the old ** bridle-stye'* that 
the early Quakers knew. Soon I reach the 
nearest village, a colonial hamlet that has known 
no serious change since its natal day. It crys- 
tallized at a creek-side point on the old trail aad 
to-day is and for almost a century and a half 
has been resting from the arduous labor of a 
week's excitement when, in 1756, an Indian pow- 
wow occurred about its oldest oak and twenty- 
two years later a little muttering of revolution- 
ary thunder startled it again. Then it was that 
the door of progress was shut upon it and never 
from behind it has been heard one word of pro- 
test. Now, the world must knock with empha- 
sis if it would be heard, and all too likely timid 
folk would merely peep through Venetian blinds 
in response and ponder over the desirability of 
further notice. Such was my wool-gathering 
as I passed by and reached the great tree that 

31 



The Eambles of an Idler 



ante-dates all else, save the Indian trail hard by, 
now the very type of a villa^ street 

Does this old oak wool-gather? 

Here, amid rolling fields stands an old oak, 
the sole, remaining witness of a half millennium 
of change ; perhaps of a longer time. Happily, 
it is inamediately surrounded by the meeting- 
house yard and that this should be encroached 
upon is unthinkable. What a grand thing if 
more old trees were equally safe. To rever- 
ence an old oak is ennobling. Every man is the 
better for it. This great tree stands for very 
much so far as every contemplative rambler is 
concerned and doubtless for much more for it- 
sett. We say frequently of a relic: If it could 
but speak! Herein this aged oak differs from 
an old house or old furniture ; it can speak. It 
is not a poet's, whim that there are tongues in 
trees. This oak is Nature's spokesman, too, 
and her only historian. 

Standing now by the massive trunk of this 
great Crosswicks oak^ I wonder what secrets 
are hidden in its heart. This is not so idle 
as crying for the moon. Trees are not as 
sphinx-like as the Sphinx. The passing breeze 

32 



Impressions 



stirs the few, crisp, frost-bitten leaves to life. 
Their rustling is not remote from words. The 
oak is talking or I am wool-gathering. It is a 
distinction without a diflFerence. Oaks of ear- 
lier centuries are reminiscential. It was so to- 
day. It was all about the sprouted acorn that 
escaped its myriad foes; of a sapling among 
giants that became a giant among saplings; 
then from self to its surroundings, to the Indian 
who long since passed away and the colonist 
that came; and after that the day of the sov- 
ereign people of an unkinged country and all 
that it has cost since to reach the present. All 
this and a vigorous tree still. 

Herein the oak is happier than the man. It 
has grown great without great eflFort. All that 
man does but opens the door to more that must 
be done and men so often die early, old beyond 
their years. 

A winter-day walk need not be a walk in vain ; 
not, at least, if the wool gathered by the way- 
side proves worth the gathering. 

No hand outreaching from another world has 
ever beckoned me to follow it and find myself a 
stranger in a strange land. I have never heard 

33 



The Eambles of an Idler 



an unfamiliar voice but clearly belonged to ttiis 
substantial world and whose words had aught 
to do with other than life's realities. In brief, 
nothing of the nature of a ghost has ever come 
within the bounds of my experience. Prosaic 
fact has ever been my portion. Yet, had I 
chosen, ghosts might often have held me in 
bondage. 

While cobwebs, dew and moonlight are com- 
mon phenomena separately, they are sometimes 
so cunningly combined that not one remains it- 
self, and associated they play ugly tricks upon 
us, in spite of all we can do. Some among 
us have seen the pastures glisten at sun- 
rise, where webs, like fairy napkins, were 
spread upon the grass. Then we were given 
over to admiration and of course were brave. 
But stitch together a few of these and hang 
them on a tree, where the moonbeams will find 
them, and then the familiar woodpath leads to 
regions of doubt, if not despair. At such a 
time, unless we are brave far beyond ordinary 
mortals, we shall think of ghosts and pause if 
not retrace our steps. Many a veracious man 
has sworn he has seen a ghost with far less 
reason for so doing; but let an owl hoot and it 

34 



Impressions 



will seem to be an earth-born voice ; even the big 
bullfrog will not be recognized. Every voice 
of the night will center about the cobweb — ^no, 
the ghost. 

That calm, common sense which is our pride, 
the judgment we boast of when we encounter 
diflSculties, the logic which we learned at school, 
all that goes to the making of a man, vanishes 
into thin air, is scattered by the whispered 
breath of fear, when cobwebs wave in the moon- 
light. It is strange that we are seldom satis- 
fied with the simple fact and are so prone to 
invest the actual with fanciful conditions. 
^* Nothing if not marvelous'* is a popular 
motto. It is all very true that a straight line is 
the shortest distance between two points, but 
because this is true the straight line is not in 
favor. It reduces life to too simple an equa- 
tion. We must be forever travelling around 
Robin Hood's bam to be satisfied. No one 
thinks of walking straight through it, even if 
the doors are wide open. Spiders may spin 
their silk; that is nothing. Moisture may con- 
dense to dewdrops ; that is less. The moon may 
shine as it never shone before; who cares? 

35 



The Rambles of an Idler 



These three suuple facts are too commonplaoe 
for us, and Nature altogether too prosaic for 
our mystery-loving souls. The earth is not for 
our feet ; we must tread on air. We weary of 
the homely beauty of simplicity; we must see 
ghosts. The real ceases to satisfy, we crave 
the unreal, the unsubstantial, the feverish lie 
rather than cool-headed truth. 

Cobwebs and consistency make a rare com- 
bination for a winter night's meditation. We 
claim to be consistent and resent any hint that 
we are lacking in this virtue. Nothing if not 
practical is our boast. We glory in the conclu- 
sions of the truly learned, yet, if it chance to be 
dark and a clammy thread of gossamer crosses 
our face, we stop as if struck with a rod of iron. 
That single, delicate thread, the tiniest twig 
will break, is a cable of vast strength our nerves 
tug against in vain. We feel for the moment 
as if Fate had decreed the end of our career. 
All the while, we know it is gossamer, but lose 
faith in our knowledge. Very consistent when 
not even a fool is deceived, but shut out the light 
of day and every pygmy is a malicious giant. 
It is as difficult to be consistent as to be candid, 
and little the credit, if we succeed. 

36 



Impressions 



A cobweb can deflect our course as surely as 
rocks turn aside the current of a brook. 

Not all gossamer is spider-web. We love the 
flimsy so well that we readily take to dainty 
nothingness and half our lives dally with un- 
restrained thought, the gossamer of idleness, 
that weaves a chain about us which we could 
break if we would, but never do. We hold, 
whether logically or not, that the gossamer of 
our own begetting deserves better treatment. 
We nurse it carefully, we humor its whims, we 
become its willing slave, and all the while the 
world is waiting for us to do our proper work. 
What an immense showing would it make if we 
did half we might do. Instead, the world too 
often has reason to wonder why we ever were, 
so trivial the impression made by us. A good 
epitaph for many a head-stone : ** Enslaved by 
gossamer. '* 

If it be true that *^ he is a freeman whom the 
truth makes free,*' then the naturalist is fortu- 
nate in escaping from bondage, for the cobwebs 
that are everywhere have a significance of their 
own that it behooves us to consider. Nature 
meets with no accidents and leaves nothing ly- 

37 



Tlie Rambles of an Idler 



ing about, having no purpose. Cobwebs are 
not rubbish and tell their own pretty story to 
the patient listener. Whoever is willing to 
trace their history is abundantly rewarded. 
They lead us into the presence of spiders, and 
these, in turn, are not as uncanny as is generally 
supposed, even if first cousins to scorpions. 
Our interest should not diminish because some 
of them will bite, but increase because of their 
skill as engineers, for many a suspension bridge 
was built by them before man thought to span 
our rivers with a wire cable. Then, not all cob- 
webs are airy threads strung from chance pillar 
to post. They are sometimes hinges to neat 
doors that guard subterranean homes, and 
again are cords that bind together sticks ar- 
ranged in cob-house fashion ; but more notice- 
able than all is the closely woven fabric that is 
spread out temptingly as a pleasant play-ground 
for the foolish fly, but is not so desirable as it 
looks, for the insect ^s feet stick fast, and the 
weaver of the web knows he has a victim. 
Every web has a purpose distinctively its own, 
and how readily we enter the broad field of 
speculation when we come to consider the cause 
behind it all, that of specific differentiation ; for 

38 



Impressions 



there are spiders and spiders and it is always 
easy to gather a dozen or more that vary 
greatly in size, shape and color. They are 
everywhere, too, and not an unknown factor 
of a midwinter day. Some even live in the 
water, carrying a supply of air to their webby 
nests- beneath the surface. How easy to specu- 
late how all this came about and yet, not yet are 
we advanced to the point of positive knowledge. 
But above all these dreary details stands out 
the one great fact that among the least conspic- 
uous of objects in Nature there often lies a 
wealth of beauty, wholly unsuspected. It is 
not *^ how much more beauty God has made than 
human eyes can see," as Euskin puts it, but 
how much more than we are willing to take the 
trouble to see. 

Cobwebs! Mention them and we have a 
vague impression of dust-accumulating threads, 
if they be in a house, or, if out of doors, they 
are but evidence that horrid spiders are about. 
But down on your knees and examine one more 
closely than ever before and then cease to brag 
of human skill in laoe-making. Man is but an 
imitator and often a clumsy one at that. It 

39 



The Rambles of an Idler 



does not take a magnifying glass to prove it. 
It is well to be self-centred. Bacon declares 
*4t is a poor centre of a man's actions, him- 
self,'* but only by selfishness are we sure of 
self-development and thus man can make the 
most of himself; and his nearness to excellence 
improves his neighbor, for we all profit by the 
examples set before us. We are more imita- 
tive and less original than we think, and yet fail 
terribly in the line of closer observation of what 
the world outside of humanity is doing in so 
far as being profited by what we see. Every- 
where the world is teeming with valuable sug- 
gestions. Not a beast or bird or spider but can 
give us a useful hint, yet we turn our backs 
or see with vision so oblique we had better not 
see at all. We make much of the silk the 
spider spins, but not to aay purpose. Folk-lore 
rhymes concerning weather are our nearest ap- 
proach to wisdom so far as cobwebs are con- 
cerned. How we pride ourselves on what we 
are, yet scarce a man but has cobwebs in his 
skull. Thought, light as gossamer, flits through 
the brain and we smile approvingly and call it 
wisdom. Perish the thought that we may be 
mistaken 1 

40 



Impressions 



The glittering dew-drops, whether on cob- 
webs or on the grass, continually recall an Al- 
pine morning when the world sparkled as it has 
not done since. I made prompt record of it at 
the time, fearing some minor detail might es- 
cape. 

By so much as the thickness of a pane of 
glass we may be kept hopelessly far from the 
actuality of Nature. He whom we pass by un- 
heeded is but a man to us, but when we stop 
and shake his hand and, eye meeting eye, 
say, *'I am glad to .have met you,'' we are face 
to face with a friend. So is it when we are out- 
of-doors. It is not enough to walk the length 
of any beaten path or make a short cut across 
untrodden fields. Nature is there, it is true, 
but not as a friend, — as a stranger. We can 
never stand as far aloof from Nature as she 
forever stands aloof from us. We think too 
highly of ourselves and too lightly of that upon 
which we are irremediably dependent; hence 
the widespread ignorance which matters nothing 
to Nature, but everything to ourselves. The 
seasons come and go; winter's austerity and 
summer's genial ways are not solely for man's 
welfare. They were the way of the world be- 

41 



The Rambles of an Idler 



fore man appeared and will continue long after 
man has vanished. 

Humility befits us, and never more so than 
when we venture to determine what of the day 
just ushered in ; what of such an Alpine morn- 
ing as this, when frost encrystals every leafless 
bough, and every withered blade of grass glit- 
ters as if heavy with diamonds. We know 
what it means in a plain, prosaic way — ^that the 
moisture has congealed, that the brook is ice- 
bound, and that the drifting sands of summer 
are now firm as any rock ; but this is really not 
enough to know. We soon learn, if we so de- 
sire, that we are not the only living creatures 
abroad on such a day. We have company, for 
there is reason to believe that even crystals are 
not inanimate. It was an absurdity, not long 
ago, to speak of ** living crystals"; not so now. 
The researches of physicists have added a new 
chapter to the ^*f airy-tales of Science." But 
Tennyson here had better be misquoted that no 
mistake arise. Eather the '^long results" of 
Science and the rest of it all, the fairy-tales of 
Time. 

Perhaps we are not as good as our grand- 
fathers, but we know more, and would extend 

42 



Impressions 



our horizon still further if we did not so per- 
sistently simply take a walk, but instead boldly 
plunge into the fields, ready to greet whatsoever 
we meet in the spirit of fellowship. Man is not 
so infinitely high and wild life so infinitely low 
that the chasm cannot be bridged. Deny ratio- 
cinative power to the nimble hawk and hold that 
the frightened snow-birds are impelled only 
by blind instincts: what matters it? They are 
companionable if we so will it, and that of itself 
makes glorious an Alpine morning. We think 
only of the cold when we are too lazy to think 
of anything else. Visions of the fireside will 
cease to pursue when we have the faith of the 
birds and keep warm after their fashion, ac- 
cepting the conditions as we find them and, 
ceasing to be refined equatorial savages, be- 
come sensible Eskimos. 

No laboratory or museum is so complete a 
microcosm that the macrocosm can be safely 
ignored. The specialist amid his glass jars 
may sneer at the unmethodical rambler, but 
whose is the wider horizon? Carcasses may 
keep intact in formaline or alcohol, and learned 
labels smack of profound knowledge, but where 
is that subtle something which came into being 

43 



The Rambles of an Idler 



with the body and which gave it that blessed 
charm which enraptures the lover of the out- 
door world! Perhaps it counts for less than 
bone or muscle ; but let it remain an open ques- 
tion that he who loves the living creature may 
have some ground for being its champion. 

An Alpine morning. The microscope may 
trace no movement in these omnipresent crys- 
tals now, but they glow with color, are flushed 
with warmth. The sunbeams make merry with 
their many faces. The fields are not suffused 
with light, but rainbow dust. It is a fairy 
world into which I have rudely thrust my awk- 
ward self. But living crystals alone may not 
suffice. We who crave companionship on so 
mighty a scale call for nearer kin, and not in 
vain. I would that the mystery of a bird might 
be forever solved. No one, I dare aver, has 
seen until today, in these fields, those living 
buntings of the north, the white and mottled 
''Snow Flakes'^ of New England. 

It would be comforting to have someone tell 
us how these birds of another zoologic zone 
knew that conditions to their tastes here 
awaited them. The explanations, to date, do 
not explain. They fill the void with words in- 

44 



.iMt^^SlS&miJi^ia^ 



Impressions 



stead of facts, and we are still left to wonder 
whether these arctic buntings fled before a 
storm or journeyed with it and can do no more. 
Such rare visitors and the movements of our 
proper door-yard birds have given rise to many 
a ''weather-proverb," and there it rests. The 
truth is yet afar off, but our interest never 
ceases. Suggestions have their brief day and 
are relegated to oblivion, or are kept alive by 
the charlatans who delude the masses. 

These irregular appearances of certain birds 
have nothing to do with migration, which has 
been scientifically studied and, in great meas- 
ure, explained; but rather with that sudden 
coming and going of all birds with which we are 
familiar. That the weather has its influence on 
animal life is evident to all, but foreknowledge 
and its concomitant, foretelling, are not unlikely 
peculiarly human attributes. On the other 
hand, birds can scarcely be denied intimations 
of approaching changes, or a forefeeling that 
influences their movements. That atmospheric 
condition which makes an aneroid possible and 
sends the mercury up and down its thirty 
odd inches of tubing may well play upon a 
bird's feathers. The result is noticed and the 

45 



The Rambles of an Idler 



cause ignored, and upon the former has been 
founded the ** saying'^ which had its value in 
the eyes of our ancestors. 

It is strange that, days like these, prosy 
thoughts should intrude upon us. Such crys- 
talline outlook should give rise to crystalline 
thought. Should! but poets are not common- 
place creatures, present on all occasions. The 
glowing spirit of a cloudless day, the wheat 
sifted from the tares, the gold from the dross, 
the soul from the body — ^not all this can help 
the plain maa who yearns for that beyond his 
reach and so is cursed, not blessed. Let these 
snow-buntings play the poet's part. 

Theirs is no machine-like method of entering 
upon any scene before them. The snow, the 
ice, the crackling twigs as they rattled in the 
breeze, were really nothing to stare at, as I was 
staring. These birds were one with every sight 
and sound, living fruit of the perfected win- 
ter. Their white feathers glistened as veri- 
table flakes falling among the trees. They twit- 
tered, too, in tune with the rattling of the brittle 
ice : one with Nature, as birds ever are, and in 
nothing alien, as man in all things is. As well 
separate the bits of a mosaic as take these bunt- 

46 



Impressions 



ings from the scene. Not they alone, but snow, 
frost, blue sky and rosy light, were a whole 
that nothing could surpass, and how vain the 
hope that one may tell its story 1 Words ever 
fail us when we need them most. 

Nothing could have been more suggestive of 
freedom than each one of these birds, yet, as it 
proved, there was a bond among them that not 
one disregarded. Their happiness was in asso- 
ciation. A sharp alarm-note sounded, and as 
one they rose into the air and were gone. A 
strange feeling of loneliness came over me. 
Crystals are relations of too remote degree — 
beautiful, indeed, but we lack the skill to inter- 
pret their message. Not so the bird. Our 
heart goes out to it, notwithstanding never a 
truer line was written than this : 

** There is no more exquisite poetry in the 
world than that which lies in certain depart- 
ments of science, and there is nothing more po- 
etic in science than a garden of these frail, 
strange, exquisite ice-plants, composed only of 
frozen dew, arranging itself in leaf and flower 
forms and glittering like burnished and frosted 
silver in the sunlight of an Alpine morning.'' 



47 



The Rambles of an Idler 



** A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and 
that which hath wings shall tell the matter/' 

There is a good deal in a name, so much, in- 
deed, that we cannot free ourselves of its influ- 
ence. I found ice this morning long after stm- 
rise, and looking miles and miles away, over 
upland and meadow, saw not a single green 
thing. The bleakness of December everywhere 
prevailed, but not with the same feelings as I 
would have then did I look out upon the world. 
It was April first, and that day and date pre- 
sents its claims in no uncertain way. Not all it 
stands for can be held back. I waited but a 
moment to have the mystery cleared. There 
was a clattering in the treetops ; a flock of pur- 
ple grakles had brought the message of the 
month — a bird of the air had carried the voice 
. . . that which hath wings had told the mat- 
ter. 

It seems positively cruel to awake, at times, 
to the fact that our impulsive explanations are 
whimsical. Even these noisy grakles were pos- 
itively musical while I fancied them bearing a 
message from April to the expectant earth. 
But if we are brought rudely to face the fact 
that they were merely singing after their fash- 

48 



Impressioiis 



ion, we can, at least, logically conclude that 
they were expressing their satisfaction because 
March winds were no longer blowing, and this, 
in a way, is a message from April to them, and 
indirectly to myself; so my first impression 
was not very wrong. As in many another 
case, we can approach the truth, but never quite 
reach it. All that a bird's song signifies we do 
not know, although books have been written on 
this single subject. 

Even if silent, which is rarely the case, a fiock 
of purple grakles, or **crow blackbirds'' as they 
are generally called, means a great deal to the 
rambler. The sky has long been only an empty 
space, but these birds fill most acceptably the 
aching void that lias been vexing us. To-day, 
as I looked and listened, I dropped from the 
contemplation of music to mathematics, and 
man can take no longer leap. The number of 
birds in the flock roused my curiosity, but their 
restlessness made even a crude estimate im- 
practicable. When I thought I had them all in 
the field of vision, a hundred or more would be 
added. It is safe to say that there were more 
than a thousand. Think of that, and every bird 
chattering his loudest. How like a crowded 

49 



The Rambles of an Idler 



parlor ! Yet how unlike, for there was meaning 
in what the birds uttered. Is it not written, * * A 
bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that 
which hath wings shall tell the matter!'' 

What matter? What can it be now but the 
message from April? What would she have us 
know? He is bold, indeed, who would attempt 
to interpret what the wild bird says, but that he 
is Spring's messenger, there can be little doubt. 
Mankind has presumed to interpret every phase 
of Nature until not to do so becomes painful to 
him. This presumption is, of course, closely 
akin to sin, but deprive us of our pleasant pec- 
cadilloes, and there is very little left. I took 
the blackbirds' message as a marching order, 
and forthwith hurried to the meadows. 

The little crepitating frogs were rattling and 
*' peeping'' until the air positively trembled, and 
the deeper toned voice of the leopard frog was 
not readily detected ; yet had the former, pres- 
ent in myriads, been silent, the croaking of 
larger frogs would, by virtue of the volume of 
sound, have attracted instant attention. We 
marvel at the volume of sound, but would be 

50 



Impressions 



more astonished could we realize the nmnberless 
throats from which it issued. It is hard to re- 
alize what a million means, but I honestly be- 
lieve that number not too great to include the 
frogs on the meadows. *'A bird of the air 
shall carry the voice/ ^ it is true, but would the 
*' disabused epicurean'^ who wrote our text have 
omitted the frogs had he heard them? They 
have not wings, but they ^Hell the matter.'' 
Tell it in so emphatic a manner that we forget 
the surroundings, for every foot of sod now is 
thick with the grave marks of an earlier year. 
All that I hear comes to where life was, not is ; 
but the message is that life shall come again. 
Not a withered weed here but shall be replaced 
by a flower. Every frog now, as anon every 
blackbird did, asserts that better things are near 
at hand. To-day the burden of their song, It is 
to he — and very soon, no less cheerily they will 
shout. It is I Such a carrying of the voice ; such 
a telling of the matter, is suflScient to keep the 
rambler long out of doors. The wreckage of 
winter no longer offends the eye. As we see 
the beauty of a structure before the scaffolding 
is cleared away, so through the dead grass we 
detect the coming greenness. Where the mes- 

51 



The Rambles of an Idler 



sage of April falls upon deaf ears there should 
our pity go. 

Farther afield I heard the bluebirds warbling 
the same glad tidings in their inimitable way. 
For years their song has been to me inexpres- 
sibly sad, as if yearning for that which is irre- 
coverable; but not so to-day. They were bub- 
bling over with joy. It was the song of years 
ago, before the days of their persecution set in. 
Nor was it only a few stragglers that were sing- 
ing, but a flock. Since the blizzard of 1888 I 
have not seen half so many altogether. Here 
were fully a hundred bluebirds, each the em- 
bodiment of happiness, and, as I presumed, 
bearing the message of April ; not to me, I ad- 
mit, but to the trees that towered above me and 
to the ground beneath my feet. There is no 
potentiality in a bird's song, but who can rid 
himself of the idea? It is too pleasing a fancy 
rudely to be brushed aside. As well accept a 
stone for bread as deal only in bare facts and 
ignore fancy. It is said there are people who 
have no imagination. Thank goodness 1 they 
but seldom cross my path. 

Other voices were enlisted in fair ApriPs 
cause as noon drew nigh, until I found no skulk- 

52 



Impressions 



ing bird. It was a day of universal rejoicing, 
a veritable jubilee. I said this, aloud, and the 
red wings took up the thought expressed, and 
surely a bird never spoke our language more 
plainly than these epauletted soldiers of the 
marsh — jubilee, jubilee. 

I lingered until the westering sun turned my 
thoughts homeward, and, though the way was 
long and the path winding, I thought nothing 
of all this. Bird music is too tonic to permit 
weariness to creep in. Every mile was worth 
what it cost, considering the song at the end of 
it ; and not a mile, nor a fraction thereof, with- 
out its attendant concourse of sweet sounds. 
The thrill of reviving activities was felt in the 
earth; a tremor could be fancied as affecting 
every gnarly old oak along the hill. Had rocks 
moved, I could hardly have been surprised. 
The message of April had been received; the 
summons was about to be obeyed cheerfully. 

Let him who doubts look and listen for him- 
self. He was neither blind nor deaf who said : 
** A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that 
which hath wings shall tell the matter.'' Alas! 
how many are deaf to every message, so deep- 
rooted is self-sufficiency. 

53 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I feel that I am lifted to the level of life's 
significance when the rose-breasted grosbeak 
sings. Cheerfulness, earnestness and the in- 
wardness of labpr are voiced by it above all 
other birds. That song alone is a message from 
one who has eliminated doubt from the earth's 
problems and bids us go forth and possess the 
land. I am urged, when I hear it, to serious 
undertakings, — to transplanting oaks rather 
than idly dropping seeds that transient flowers 
may bloom. 

May-day can be as commonplace a date as 
any other of the series making the round year. 
We make much of many a holiday of our own 
appointment and practically nothing of this 
one, set apart by Nature herself as a time to 
rejoice, yet no occurrence concerning man is 
fuller of significance to the natural world. Man 
— Nature; they are far apart. Which the 
greater it matters not, but he is wiser than his 
brother if on this auspicious day he flees from 
the entanglements of civilization and turns sav- 
^S^ ; gets again as near Nature as he can, and 
asks every bird and tree and flower to be his 
boon companion. There is many a word in our 
common speech of which we know but half the 

54 



Impressions 



meaning; happiness is one of them. Go a-May- 
ing and see if I am not right. 

Those who dedicated our fifth month to Maia, 
the mother of Mercury, knew Nature well and 
appreciated the fitness of things ; but I suspect 
the chroniclers are wrong and that she, herself, 
chose it as peculiarly her own and gave to it 
her name. Truth, for once, is of little moment, 
and I prefer my own fancy to the declared fact 
of another. 

This is May first. Yearly reincarnated, she 
was present when, in an absolutely cloudless 
sky, the sun rose. The thrush, robin and wren 
knew the date as one set apart from the routine 
of the year, but they gave place to the gros- 
beak. He was May's chosen trumpeter to-day. 
The day, the hour, the outlook, are spiritual 
now and voice themselves in the song of a bird. 
May-day calls for no Quaker-like simplicity. 
Secretly we all love pomp, and so fancy the 
songs of May-day birds the announcement of 
our coming, as though we were really the lords 
of Creation. We can go a-Maying backward, 
as when we have anticipated all we look for; 
or go forward, all expectancy, disregarding 
past or future, accepting the passing moment as 

55 



The Rambles of an Idler 



the only gift of the gods. I prefer the latter. 

There were dandelions in the dead grass be- 
fore the winter was over, and all through April 
there was green grass where the sunshine long- 
est lingered ; there were singing birds to break 
the monotony of March; and yet to-day we 
have the impression of a swift transition from 
grave to gay, from shade to sunshine, from 
silence to music, from neutral tint to brilliancy 
of color. Not true, indeed; but let us be no 
stickler for the naked fact. It is hard to believe 
fancy has no right in the world. 

SuflSce it that this is May first, and let us see 
the world in a May-day spirit. Here are a 
blue sky and snow-white clouds seemingly sus- 
pended from it. The distant horizon is a less 
broken line than it was yesterday; the leaves 
grew in the night and straightened it. Buds 
are blossoms. The old gray world is now a new 
green one, and the rejuvenation is not Nature's 
only, but ours also. Coincidence only, as the 
dry-as-dust remarks, but who cares, seeing it is 
a happy one! 

There must be wildness in the air and we 
must feel it The scream of the hawk, heard, 
as it is, above all other sounds, is as the voice 

56 



Impressions 



of Nature when she asserts herself. We listen, 
then, not because we elect to do so, but because 
of the demand made upon us. It is Nature's 
authoritative tone, that none but a fool would 
attempt to disregard. 

In what consists this wildness? it may be 
asked. In everything. May is not a savage, 
but she is wild. She is a child of Nature, and 
only such are free from all we would forget 
when we go a-Maying. When May arrives, the 
long-housed mortal must get out of himself as 
well as his house to find himself at home. She 
exacts that her guests be as wild as herself. 
True, she bade the rose-breast be her trumpeter, 
but she demands also a choral announcement, 
and it is ever at her bidding. Never a mute 
May day. There is life enough and abundant 
sociability in the babbling brook and murmur- 
ing tree-tops. When there is anything lacking 
out-of-doors, it is in ourselves. 

Here is, I think, that which sets the month of 
May apart from all other times of the year; 
we forget the truth and feel as young and fresh 
as the expanding leaves. The dust of age is 
wiped away, and the glitter of youth, once ours, 
is seemingly again in possession. The cheery 

57 



The Rambles of an Idler 



whistle of the cardinal, for example, is a re- 
juvenating sound. It not only falls upon the 
ear, but fills us from top to toe with music We 
are thrilled. We heed as well as hear it and 
respond. It is as natural to shout our gladness 
on a bright May morning as it is to remark sol- 
emnly upon the weather during other times and 
seasons. We repeat the messages of the birds 
and find scant charm even in our own conceits. 
One with Nature on a May day is a full measure 
of delight. It is easy to forget that we are of 
many millions of people, if these many millions 
will kindly keep out of sight and hearing. 

O Solitude, where are thy charms? 

Where? Here, in these old woods. 

**But when these woods are silent, what 
fhenr* 

Silence is a rare occurrence in the woods or 
out of them. If there is not breeze enough to 
stir the fresh, green leaves on the trees, there 
is pretty sure to be a mouse to stir the dead 
leaves on the ground. Somewhere a shrill 
voice is shouting all the time, and if we hear 
nothing of what immediately surrounds us, the 
voice in the distance will reach us even if but as 

58 



Impressions 



the ghost of an echo. Silence is as easily broken 
as are promises. We have but to listen to our 
own breathing to fill our ears. Silence is a por- 
tentous word, standing theoretically for a stem 
fact, but theoretically only. Practically it is 
only a relative condition and a marvellously 
happy one. Silence, Solitude, Self! — as pleas- 
ing a combination as our wills can conjure up. 
These obtaining, we can do as we please, or, 
choosing inaction, think as we please. No bet- 
ter time than this to sift the chatter of the last 
crowd we mingled with, and perhaps gather a 
grain of gold from the infinitude of chaff. This 
triple condition is a better one out-of-doors, as 
ID these woods, than in any house. The house 
is ever a museum of distracting objects. Books, 
pictures, chairs and tables lead us from our 
natural to our artificial selves, but not so out- 
of-doors. Trees, birds, flowers, water, earth, 
sky — ^nothing in these runs counter to whole- 
some natural thoughts. We blend with all 
about us ; not out of place, but accurately fitted, 
as Nature purposed, in that marvellous mosaic 
we call Creation. 

Silence is a condition so largely of our imag- 
ination that it need never be seriously consid- 

59 



The Rambles of an Idler 



ered. Its rarity gives it a genuine interest, 
and it is never so long-lived as to become mo- 
notonous. I think, if I were in an absolutely 
silent cell, the singing of the birds would come 
to me at will, and I could laugh at walls how- 
ever stoutly built. Now I have no need to deal 
with theory or put in practice any fancied con- 
dition. Nature is ever voluble in May. The 
moments between the songs of thrush and gros- 
beak, wren and oriole, chewink and chat, few 
and far apart, are filled by chanticleer in my 
neighbor's barnyard. 

What is often felt to be silence and spoken of 
as such is but the rhythmic pulse of Nature, that 
rapidly intermitting hum of life which cease- 
lessly wells up from the warm earth. ^ Night or 
day the teeming millions of the marshes, the 
meadow brook, and dark, damp tangles in the 
upland woods keep theoretical, perhaps myth- 
ical, silence forever in the background. Did 
we live the year round wholly out-of-doors, I 
think we would forget the very word silence. 
If we make a bogy of this same silence, we 
should not complain if it frighten us. 

The restless rose-breast has returned, and 
why heed the non-existent? I have wandered 

60 



Impressions 



through the books on birds in hope of finding 
justice done this perfect performer of our 
woodland choir, but find nothing approaching 
it. The rose-breasted grosbeak sees the world 
more sanely than does the thrush. It has no 
patience with the nonsense of the catbird or the 
chat. Poet and musician, it gives its thoughts 
a worthy setting, and never frets us with a jar- 
ring note. To be glad with its degree of glad- 
ness is an ideality of life, — for us an unattain- 
able goal, but an excellent one to keep before 
us. Ever aiming at the inaccessible, we keep, 
at least, in the one path, a straight one, and 
siQgleness of purpose is excellent, if that pur- 
pose be worthy. I forget more of all that I 
would forget when listening tc the rose-breasted 
grosbeak than when I hear the song of any 
other bird. Nor need one wonder why. It is 
an exultation over perfect happiness attained. 
All else that is heard is not without a trace of 
melancholy or doubt. This alone is the out- 
pouring of a merry heart, yet weighty with wise 
thought withal. 

This day our journey never need be long. 
An old apple-tree is an appropriate goal. When 
we have fathomed what trunk, branches, leaves, 

61 



Tie Rambles of an Idler 



blossoms, and their attendant bees and birds 
stand for, and can tell our less observant 
brother what May-day means, when the hum of 
insects and songs of warblers fill the air, then 
we do not need a day out-of-doors ; but I have 
never met with such a man. Indifference is not 
evidence of a lack of need. Not all the lectures, 
sermons, books and museums in the land can 
take Nature's place. To be with her daily is 
the greatest of our blessings, but this cannot 
always be. To catch merely hap-hazard glances 
is but to learn what we are losing. If, at best, 
we must choose an occasional day, never omit 
this magical date. As I have done and am do- 
ing — go a-Maying. 

That which keeps me wholesomely alive, as I 
wander to-day, is color — ^blue, pink, yellow, red, 
and white. May blossoms are everywhere. 
Violets, azaleas, buttercups, columbines, and 
wildflowers, all intensely in earnest, gazing sky- 
ward boldly, expectant of May's assuring 
smile. They clearly enter into the spirit of the 
day and shame us for our half-heartedness. 
The idols of Artificiality are something more 
than wood and stone ; they have cast a veritable 
spell over us. Sound, also, keeps me whole- 

62 



Impressions 



somely alive. Not alone the singing of the 
forty different birds that I have seen, but the 
undertone or thrill of earth's renewed activity. 
Insects in the grass, frogs in the water, the 
breeze that toys with the baby leaves, these are 
the constant sounds that are unheeded and un- 
heard if our thoughts continually revert to the 
town, but speafc in no uncertain way if we have 
ears to hear and a will to heed their message. 
May hath pithy speech, yet plain. No vague in- 
timations are hers, but all is of clear intent. 

Innocent as the blossom, joyous as the bird, 
earnest as earth's manifold activities, this is 
she who wishes only that they who ramble 
abroad this day may be like unto her and so 
remain. 

What more detestable than wet days iq May? 
What ought to be, is not. What is, ought tiot 
to be. Let the rain come in the night, if it 
must, and then make way for sunshine. Such 
is the thought of the average healthy man. 

Now that a recent May has passed into his- 
tory, I am inclined to take back all that I have 
ever said in favor of the month. Like the eor- 

63 



TJie Rambles of an Idler 



responding month of the preceding year, it has 
been more a series of disappointments than of 
realizations. I write these words without mis- 
givings, and although, when the east wind was 
most cruel, the wood-thrush sang in that ex- 
alted strain that lifts us to a higher sphere. 
This song of the wood-thrush is evidence of 
near approach, in one direction, to perfection 
and it is well so to be entertained by it that we 
are blind to how short we fall of attainment in 
others. 

One May, I recall, had but little to boast of, 
and another, later, had less. Eighteen rainy 
or cloudy or foggy days is an excess of pluvial 
and allied conditions that would figure weU in 
Patagonian or Labradorian outings, but out of 
place in Nature's remnant of Elysium, New 
Jersey. 

And yet, — ^the signal of a sober second 
thought — the catalogued phenomena of the 
month has no missing pages, nor breaks in its 
columns. The trees grew their leaves, plants 
produced their flowers and the birds returned. 
Search where we might, nothing was lacking 
and yet we could not accept the offering as 
May; that is, as poets picture her. The trouble 

64 



Impressions 



is, these imaginative folk have so warped our 
minds that we look for more than we can rea- 
sonably expect to find. There is a pane of glass 
in one of my windows that has a twist ia it, 
which lifts every little^ bush from the ground 
and makes of it a long, slender Lombardy pop- 
lar. It is so with the poetry that we have relied 
on for our ideas of May. Every bush a tall 
tree ; every blossom, a bouquet, and, worse than 
all, every hour flooded with sunshine. We have 
had our faith undermined and tempers spoiled 
by teaching that later we have to unlearn. 
There is no one that does not rebel when it is 
stormy or cold in May. The man who professes 
to be content and preaches patience is to be 
watched. 

The statistics of the Weather Bureau are 
saner than the effusions of the Spring poet. 
The return of the seasons, and what they are, 
we know by name rather than by nature, and 
should expect nothing. In every twelve months 
there is a round of changes, but no very or- 
derly procession. The seasons may have a 
path but they do not keep in it; so too, the 
months have their allotted phenomena but they 
lack method in handling them. 

65 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Expect nothing and so be rich in prepared- 
ness. Set your picnic for the first fair day and 
specify no date. Learn that dependence on the 
weather is like trusting to luck, a sure way to 
be miserable. That you may become better ac- 
quainted with facts, why not, at least once in 
your life, picnic in the rain? Perhaps the birds 
will not sing, but pass the day with them, 
whether they do or not. Misery loves company. 

An ideal day is one that is suggestive. We 
must see something about which to think, later. 
The harvest of an out-door day should be food 
for thought. Not all gray skies are akin to 
wet blankets, for sunshine does not reveal all 
the earth's secrets. How Nature affects us 
when she frowns is no matter ; but we are con- 
cerned with her scowling effects upon wild life. 

Clear or cloudy, accept no day as typical. 
Cloudiness and fog are not depressing. It is 
only the wind that the birds detest. The cat- 
bird is really musical now, almost an equal of 
the thrasher, but not so persistent. Its tend- 
ency to fret never so far overcomes as not to 
permit finishing a pleasing song. 

Today I saw a pretty sight. Leaves all drip- 
ping, and the cat-bird, perched upon a twig, 

66 



Impressions 



sent down a shower of glittering drops, and 
dived in time to pass through it. Then, with 
great spreading of wings, the bird shook off the 
drops that clung to it and sang or laughed — ^at 
least I thought at the time that it laughed. 

I thought ! We describe what we witness in 
accordance with the way we enter into the scene. 
It is possible to see only motion and all 
that suggests association of incidents can be 
cried down as coincidence. True, and equally 
so, that every community, however small, has 
its dunce. If there were no pleasure derived 
from interpretation, better stay away from Na- 
ture 's activities. It is vain to question her. 
She is close-mouthed and we should never for- 
get that she would move on in her own mysteri- 
ous way just the same, if there never were a 
man in all the world. Evolution merely hap- 
pened in the direction of humanity. To Na- 
ture, we are of no more importance than so 
many cat-birds. If we were not of some impor- 
tance to ourselves, we should be of none at all. 

One little bird was very insistent, this morn- 
ing, saying, It is, it is, it is, it isl I too admit 
**it is,** but does my '4t" and the bird's stand 
for the same thing? If the bird feared I should 

67 



The Rambles of an Idler 



forget it was May, the fear was groimdless. I 
shall not forget. May days are all matters of 
joy except when I am forced to go to town. 
The scattered shade trees there make me home- 
sick. 

A puff of wind shook the drops of water from 
the leaves and these falling on the spreading 
skunk cabbage beneath, made a great clatter. 
I looked sharply about me, thinking some animal 
was running by. 

It is beautifully clear to-day, and if a year 
ago, in all the fog and damp, there was so much 
to see and hear, how much more now, when a 
blue sky and abundant sunshine give the cue to 
general rejoicing. 

A pretty view to take of the subject, but as 
unwise as possible. To-day, there was the 
frostiness of winter, a suggestion of January 
came back to us and I could not find even 
where the birds were hiding, every one kept so 
close. 

I expected little on a former May day and 
saw and heard much. I supposed there would 
be much to see, when I started out this time, and 
I neither saw nor heard anything. Wild life 

68 



Impressions 



judges for itself as to the weather, and to set up 
our standards for its guidance is to publish 
our own foolishness. We forget this potent 
fact too often. 

At noon, on a recent May day, the warbling 
vireo and its red-eyed cousin were heard about 
the house, and in vain, to get rid of them, did 
I go farther and farther afield. Both have 
querulous, tiresome songs, that become posi- 
tively exasperating, when we wish to listen to 
the less pronounced notes of other birds. 
There is nothing suggestive in their monot- 
onous reiteration, unless we look upon each 
utterance as the death-knell of an insect, and 
we need not add this to our many reminders of 
Death's activity. The clock struck the hour, 
but a moment ago. An hour has just passed 
away, and by so much we passed with it. Give 
us livelier birds ; one like the chat that amuses, 
the thrush that soothes, the lark that exhil- 
arates, or even the crow that leads me, at least, 
to pleasing retrospection. I shun the red-eyed 
vireo before the summer is gone, for it becomes 
ere then like the mumble of senile dementia. 

If I am completely happy when crossing a 
69 



The Rambles of an Idler 



quiet mill-pond, in a row-boat, at a snail's pace, 
why should I be envious of those who cross the 
Atlantic in an ''ocean greyhound?" 

Fixing our own goal, if we reach it, satisfies ; 
I know not why we should concern ourselves 
about those people who are more ambitious. 
We hear much of a high aim, but if one nearer 
the earth delight us, why raise our gun? It is 
hitting the bull's eye that gives us the pleasure, 
not the lower or higher setting of the target. 

Simple tastes and a humble occupation are 
full worthy of our regard, if we are at peace 
with ourselves the while. Envy works more 
mischief than all other of men's weaknesses. 
Content is the key-note of a life's success. I 
know that there are those who look down on me 
and sneer, but I am not disturbed. I look up at 
them and laugh. 

While it was yet uncertain what the day was 
to be, so pale the light that flushed the eastern 
sky, a red-start suddenly appeared, as if a pas- 
senger on the latest puff of wind, and never a 
moment resting, began that zig-zagging among 
the tree-tops that will not end till the close of 
summer. This bird is a ** warbler," but its 

70 



. Impressions 



note suggests unoiled machinery; a grating 
sound; a squeak. All these interruptions of 
the silence, in a way, are welcome. They are 
assurances that Spring is really here. Last au- 
tumn and winter were good, but now it is Spring 
and something better, and soon summer, best of 
all. Best? Perhaps it is, but is there not a 
wiser view, that of accepting each season so 
cheerfully that it is perfect while it lasts! It 
would be better to drop our choice of seasons. 
These May days are perfect ones of their kind, 
but let each day, month, season, as it passes, 
suflSce us. 

May, magnificently arrayed and superbly at- 
tended, we can think of only as a sovereign — a 
gentle queen. So, at least, she has often been; 
but sometimes she is a sobbing, sorrowful 
queen, copious tears falling nearly every day. 

To-day I measured this yearns growth of a 
young ash. It is twenty-two inches taller than 
six weeks ago; and a young beech has a new 
growth at the end of every limb, but is four 
inches shorter than the ash. If we sowed the 
seeds of trees in youth, we could walk in a for- 
est before old age appeared. 

71 



The Rambles of an Idler 



In a dead limb of a linden tree, near the 
kitchen door, about thirty feet from the ground, 
a pair of flickers — golden-winged woodpeckers 
— ^have their nest. I think it was dug out in a 
single night, for the white chips, like great snow- 
flakes, covered the ground early one morning 
and no one appeared to have seen or heard the 
birds while at work. 

These woodpeckers are not at all shy, but 
properly circumspect. They are nothing for 
the rattle of pots and kettles beneath them. So 
long as the latter keep to the ground, the flickers 
will enter no protest. The fact is, and it is 
true of all birds, that it is not always noise and 
bustle that frighten, but the kind of disturb- 
ance. They are quick to discover if any activ- 
ity on man's part has to do with man's affairs 
or is directed towards themselves. These door- 
yard flickers were circumspect for a few days 
and now they are tame. 

The house-wrens still nearer by may have 
given them assurance that all was well, but this 
is very doubtful. They are too far apart, struc- 
turally, to associate, and intellectually very un- 
equal. What queer birds are these wrens! I 
could pick out a dozen excellent nesting sites for 

72 



Impressions 



them, but not one is occupied. Instead, one 
pair of these birds have chosen a tomato-can 
turned upside down over a stake. Great skill 
has been exercised to secure the nest, as there 
is little room, the stake being large, and, to 
make bad matters worse, the can sways a good 
deal whenever the wind blows. Until some ob- 
server secures a wren's point of view and ex- 
plains it all, such nesting sites must remain 
evidences of a wren's lack of wit, from our 
point of view. I would much like to read a nat- 
ural history of man written by a wren, or, in- 
deed, any creature not a man. It would have 
one quality not always found in men's books, 
now-a-days, originality. 

We occasionally hear an unfamiliar note and 
usually wonder what bird uttered it. We for- 
get that most of our small animals also can be 
noisy on occasion. I once followed up a boy 
who was tending cows in the meadow, thiuking 
I was on the track of some rare visitor to these 
parts. As he told me, he was ^Hryin' to shape 
a tune to some po'try he'd made up.*' Since 
then I keep in mind the possible sources of 
sounds I hear other than birds. Only recently, 

73 



The Rambles of an Idler 



in a green-brier tangle, I heard a shrill cry that 
puzzled me. Before I had forgotten it, chance 
solved the mystery. My dog ran down a weasel 
in the grass and wounded it. When I came up, 
it gave the loud, shrill cry that when previously 
heard I could not identify. In this case, it was 
distinctly a cry of distress, but is it always that? 
Cram mentions a weasel *^ uttering a sharp 
chirp like the alarm notes of certain species of 
warblers, '^ but the sound I heard was a shrill 
che-ee-epl twice or thrice repeated. 

Recently, in a single ramble along the hill- 
side, my companion and I found one nest each 
of a yellow-breasted chat, a cardinal grosbeak 
and a summer warbler. There was no attempt 
at concealment in any one instance. If a cow 
had nibbled off a few leaves, the nest would 
have been exposed even more, and such an oc- 
currence is quite possible. There were thickets 
near by, no animal could have gotten through 
so as to reach the nest, yet these were not made 
use of, but instead a bush on the edge of wide 
open spaces. It looked much like trusting to 
luck, which is closely akin to being very foolish, 
if not really the same thing. 

74 



Impressions 



A fall in temperature of sixteen degrees 
caused marked changes in existing conditions. 
Four really warm days sufficed to set June's 
machinery in motion. The month was in run- 
ning order an(J all animate nature accepted the 
conditions thankfully. Only those people who 
have de-naturalized themselves complained of 
the heat. Then a cool wave from Montana and 
all was confusion. The eflfect in town, I was 
told, was to start the senseless question: Are 
our seasons changing? In the country, the re- 
sult was to silence a great deal of noisy life and 
put a quietus on a vast deal of activity. 

Some time ago, in autumn, I cut from a bush 
and hung in the hall a large pear-shaped nest of 
the hornet. It held intact for a time, and when 
it became too shabby to be presentable, was re- 
moved to the side of the house, where it soon 
became an object of interest to hornets and 
house-wrens. The former explored its inner 
recesses continually; not, as it proved, to re- 
occupy the nest, but to carry away available bits 
for a new nest under construction elsewhere. 
This, at least, was the apparent solution of the 
matter, for no hornet ever tarried longer than 

75 



The Rambles of an Idler 



to reduce to pulp some of the old nest. Cap- 
turing several of these ill-tempered creatures, I 
failed to find any of the nest material about 
them, so I may be mistaken, but in the course of 
two weeks the interior of the nest was a good 
deal broken down. 

For some days before the hornets ceased their 
visits, a wren came and my initial thought was 
that the bird, too, was after nesting material, 
but this was not the case. The place was now 
admirably adapted for a roosting-spot, and a 
day-time-resting-place as well ; for male wrens, 
it would seem, occasionally get tired and appre- 
ciate a quiet comer where they can take up a 
thread of thought instead of forever tugging at 
the line of duty. This very reasonable view of 
life is disputed, however, and discussion more 
emphatic than polite sometimes occurs. It all 
would be very amusing were it not top-heavy 
with weighty suggestion. 

Nature, unaffected by man's activities, is al- 
ways near, and great areas of it often closer at 
hand than we suspect. An acre is but a mere 
dot on the map of many a farm, but let that 
same acre be a bit of woods or marsh, and at 

76 



Impressions 



night it seems a boundless wilderness. Try 
walking through and through it, this way and 
that, where there are no paths, and let an owl 
hoot in your ears and you will then know what 
I mean far better than words can tell. 

It so happened I was in the immediate valley 
of Crosswicks Creek long after sunset, yester- 
night. The tide was well run out and long, low 
banks of mud were exposed. On these the 
night-herons were stalking or standing, sentinel- 
like, and back on higher ground the toads were 
bellowing. Black clouds obscured the sky but 
left wide star-dotted spaces between them. 
There was no sight nor sound of man. Again 
it was the weird, wild country of the Indian or 
before his time. The mastodon might have 
sounded his shrill, trumpet-like cry and I would 
not have been disturbed. The wolf might have 
howled or the cougar screamed, but only fear 
would have been aroused. As it was, the fishes 
leaping above the surface of the out-flowing 
waters, the splash of the turtles sliding from a 
projecting stump or floating log, the warning 
cry of the muskrat and possibly that of the 
mink, forcibly reminded me that I was far from 
being alone. 

77 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Night more frequently than day recalls the 
past, particularly such a night as this, and it 
was natural, on returning home, to take up 
Kalm's Travels in North America. More than 
once he was within three or four miles of where 
I had just been and he described in detail what 
he saw in 1748-49. Coming from the marshes 
late at night directly to his book, it was like a 
new world just from the press. As I read, it 
was the good old colonial time again, and I had 
seen and saw, book in hand, what were the fa- 
miliar daily sights of my ancestors. 

The sunny side of those days may not be 
made plain in the histories we read, but that 
there was such a side we all believe, though 
not more so than to-day. Surely there was a 
freshness and novelty then that is lacking now. 
One certain advantage of such experience as 
mine last night is that no element of deception 
creeps in. It is the same creek and the same 
sky above it that Kalm saw. If not the same 
trees, they are trees of the same kind that grow 
in the adjacent meadow ; and then, toads, minks, 
muskrats and night-herons have not changed 
their language. Their message to Kalm in 
1748 and to me one hundred and fifty-three 

78 



Impressions 



years later is identical. Here in the marsh 
there is no ^^ antique" furniture palmed off 
upon us, made a year ago, by some cunning 
artisan. 

A good old Quaker lady in her kindly un- 
grammatieal way was wont to say to me when- 
ever I expressed a determination to take a noc- 
turnal outing, ** Thee '11 surely get the chills,'' 
but the warning was never heeded. A possible 
shaking should not frighten us off. It is worth 
the risk, considering there is still an abundance 
of quinine. The serious part of it all is after 
the outing, when the story of it is to be told. 
The tamest thing in the world is a description. 

There are so many strange sounds heard at 
night that only a visit to the woods or fields or 
a marsh such as that I have been wandering 
over can give us an adequate idea of the abun- 
dance of wild life still remaining and holding 
its own against ceaseless persecution. We re- 
alize now how many creatures, both furred and 
feathered, effectually conceal themselves during 
the day. 

These were the sounds I recognized as I stood 
alone on the sobbing marsh, for the mud at this 
time — at low tide — is constantly sobbing, or 

79 



The Rambles of an Idler 



perhaps, more correctly, blubbering. I heard 
the night-heron and the great, bittern, the yel- 
low-breasted chat and a field-sparrow — this 
bird singing in its sleep — ^marsh-wrens, an owl, 
frogs, crickets, and, I think, the chattering of a 
flying-squirrel. These at once and the bewil- 
derment resulting from the attempt at identifi- 
cation probably dulled my ears to many another 
sound. As deep bass to all those lighter notes 
was the chorus of innumerable toads that at 
times drowned the childish trebles of more airy 
creatures. 

It is easy enough to enumerate, but no trick 
of words will make animal life stand out on a 
printed page. Here are a few names ; the crea- 
tures are still in the marsh. 

Through the three hottest hours of the day, 
the indigo bird sings without a break. It does 
not even seek the shade of a leaf. Are we to 
learn some valuable lesson from this fact or is 
the bird demented? 

Because we gather a great deal of valuable 
knowledge through observation of the out-door 
world, it does not follow that all animals are 
wisdom personified. Interrupted evolution re- 

80 



Impressions 



suited in a foolish creature now and then and 
I think the indigo bird is one of them. 

During these Graduate days, advice is in the 
air thicker than ever gossamer floated in the 
early morning. Excellent, in its way, some of 
it, but the inclination to swathe it in feverish 
rhetoric and to exalt the orator until the dis- 
tance between the adviser and the advised is 
immeasurable overcomes discretion at times. 
To tell the class that has now finished its train- 
ing for the great struggle, never to take a rest 
is nonsense ; but clothe this same idea in an ora- 
torical outburst, flowery similes and other tricks 
of speech, and the class and its friends applaud 
vigorously, and, very wisely, forget, the next 
day, all the speaker said. 

Hamlet was set up, I notice, before a bench- 
row of graduates, as a failure and Fortinbras 
lauded to the skies. The former decried as a 
dreamer, the latter praised as a man of deeds ; 
but all the world has heard of Hamlet and who 
but a beggarly few remember Fortinbras f 
The one, dreamer though he may have been, 
goes with us and delights us, wherever we may 
be; but no sooner does the curtain touch the 

81 



The Rambles of an Idler 



stage's floor than Fortinbras is so completely 
forgotten that we can only with diflSculty recall 
his name. 

Too much is said of this endless struggle for 
success, too often ecstatic to the touch and 
ashes to the taste. The positive curse of all 
this flourish of rhetorical trumpets is the set- 
ting up, not of high ideals, but of ideals at a 
preposterous elevation. It is shouted abroad 
at this season: Goad your ambition and reach 
to the unattainable. So far, bad. All too sel- 
dom is it advised: Curb your ambition and be 
content with moderation. Youth is set to run 
at a mad, killing pace and, prematurely grown 
old, has nothing in the end to show for a prod- 
igal waste of energy. Statistics will bear this 
out. Why aim to be a comet that outshines all 
the stars? Comets are but transitory affairs. 
The fixed planets and the myriad stars serenely 
shining have a better time of it. Better to be 
happy in a modest way than miserable under 
the load of vast undertakings. 

A later June day was that of General Nest 
Delivery among the robins. Young birds were 
everywhere and the old ones were in a state of 

82 



Impressions 



perturbation beyond description. They were 
simply an annoyance when I endeavored to 
make note of the released nestlings. These I 
classed, at the time, as climbers and flutterers, 
and interest centred on the former, as their 
success in clambering about trees and in tangles 
of green brier was quite marked. I saw noth- 
ing that could be called a mishap, but the flut- 
terers often came to the ground and had endless 
difficulties in getting off it. They failed to 
judge of position and fell short or over-flew the 
perch they strove to reach. One young bird, 
having no faith in his wings, had marked scan- 
sorial skill, and I think more than once used his 
beak as a third means of support; that is, it 
climbed with its feet, balanced itself with its 
wings and pulled itself up by holding to a twig 
with its beak. So, at least, it appeared to me, 
but I will not be positive. 

All the while the parent birds kept up an in- 
cessant chatter. The young appeared not to 
pay any attention to it and so it was, to me, a 
waste of energy; and should it not, theoret- 
ically, be dangerous? Such a commotion at- 
tracted my attention and so it should have 
called hither hawks, owls, crows, weasels and 

83 



The Bambles of an Idler 



cats. All these are fond of yonng birds as 
food, and could have feasted to their stcmiachs' 
content, but I saw not one. I, snrely, did not 
keep them away, concealed »s I was by the foli- 
age of bush and brier. 

I wondered, too, if the parent birds could rec- 
ognize their own young from others of the same 
age. To-day, four nests were vacated at the 
same time and the young, a dozen or more, 
were wandering in the same trees. I could see 
no difference in them, but then, I did not see 
with a parent's eyes. 

One smnmer the sink-hole in my field was full 
of green-herons. A year later they came in 
force but left very early, except a single pair. 
Now but two pairs are there, yet to my eyes 
there is no change in the spot. I think this 
shows how hopeless it is to determine, from our 
standpoint, the true inwardness of birds' do- 
ings. We are constantly misjudging our hu- 
man neighbors, and if we cannot stand in their 
shoes, how much more improbable that our con- 
jectures as to the birds should be correct 
Why, too, this present summer, should the red- 
eyed vireos have forsaken us? Surely there is 

84 



Impressions 



food enough for them, as the flycatchers and 
red-starts can testify. 

On the eighth of the month, a man came to 
the ^^ Three Beeches'' to hear the Carolina 
wren. It is the one bird I would have promised 
a sight of, without hesitation. That day none 
were seen or heard, and none since, until to- 
day, the fourteenth. Comment is unnecessary. 

I am sensible, this quiet afternoon, of a pres- 
ence that distinctly influences me, although I 
am, outwardly, quite alone. I think I never 
come to this grand old oak but I have the same 
feeling. It is an oak worthy of a long walk to 
see. Still, all unmindful of the sad changes 
going on about it, it looks out upon the world 
with all the majesty of kingship in its noblest 
sense. An oak, a forest monarch when the In- 
dian filed along the, narrow trail that is still to 
be traced near it ; a witness to the struggles of 
the colonists while there was yet an unbroken 
wilderness about them; and still marking the 
changes that the restless energy of man brings 
to pass. It is a long look backward from the 
electric railway to the Indian's trail, yet the life 
of this old oak more than encompasses it alL 

85 



The Bambles of an Idler 



Sitting as I do, I see no trace of recent 
change and hear no rumble of the passing cars. 
The quiet of an earlier century pervades, and 
in a delightful, day-dreamy mood myself, I feel 
that I have most pleasant company. Here 
dwells a hamadryad that has a power to charm. 
There is no disturbing element. Not a harsh 
sound nor distressful confusion plagues me. 
The actualities have drifted until all is vague. 
Dreaming, I am yet awake, and sight, sound, 
smell, alike aid my senses in their airy flight. 
The hamadryad is so far real that I enjoy her 
company. She whispers of pleasant things 
only, recalling the happy past until it is real 
again and promising of the future such good 
things that the delight of anticipation will over- 
bear the probable shock of promise broken. I 
would that every oak was blessed with such an 
attendant. Hamadryad, indeed! Whim of a 
poet? No, not this one. She is more real, 
more honest than half the friends we meet. As 
the devotee approaches the shrine, I came here 
as I have often done before and never was re- 
buffed. Here is the only altar I have ever 
faced. The work-a-day world may scoff at 
hamadryads. Let it be joined to its fleshly idols 

86 



Impressions 



and find comfort. This oak stands for some- 
thing greater than the crowd. There is here a 
balm for the smarting soul, that neither pealing 
organ or men's words can impart. Trouble 
fades as a dream when the hamadryad whispers 
and the trembling leaves repeat her soothing 
words. 

Although the sky was overcast and the low- 
lying fog, condensing, rolled in great drops of 
water from every leaf to the ground, there was 
promise of a pleasant day and that the passing 
shower, like the brief sobbing of a child, would 
soon be followed by sunny smiles. 

At Four A. M. I was up and about and heard 
not the concert only, but that preliminary tun- 
ing up that precedes it. Here, without doubt, 
the robiu is choir-master. His, it was, to sound 
the first note as the light gained foothold and 
the outlook merged from chaos to order. His 
to be the leader — ^but Caution cries, halt ! Was 
the robin thus recognized? Is not each one of 
the several species of birds wholly independent 
of and indifferent to the others? We speak of 
the morning *^ concert" because it describes the 
effect of united voices upon us, but do birds 

87 



The Rambles of an Idler 



take the same view of it? Did the thrush and 
the wood-pewee wait for the robin to give the 
signal? If so, why did they only, and not the 
song-sparrow, cardinal and rose-breast join in 
at the same moment? It is useless to conjec- 
ture. It is mere assumption that consideration 
of another's song ever entered a bird's head, 
but here is what happened, — 

The robin heard the whispering dawn 
And knew that dreary night was gone; 
Then told the good news far and near, 
Shouted aloud that all might hear, 

"In sleep no longer drown your voice; 
Come, comrades, one and all, rejoice. 

"Come, gentle thrush, thy hymn repeat. 
With sweetest chord the morning greet; — 
Thou, jaunty red-bird, warble well 
Thy notes that breathe such potent spell; 
Welcome the quick, in-coming day. 
In thy persuasive, winning way." 

From hillside-slope to river's shore. 
The meadows deep in brilliant bloom. 
Bid shadow vex them now no more; 
Aside they cast their night-long gloom; 

The chains that bound the world were broke 
88 



Impressions 



The moment that the robin spoke; 
No thorns beset, nor frosts defy 
When bless^ June is passing by. 

Brilliant indeed are the meadows in Jmie. 
We can use no milder term and do them justice. 
The botanist can readily appreciate this, when 
I tell him that at one glance can be seen and 
from a few acres can be gathered in abundance, 
Phlox, Oenothera, Thalictrum, Pen^temon, Eri- 
geron. Iris, Senecio, Lysvmachia and Cynthia. 
Grouping these, we have a mass of yellow, or- 
ange, pink, purple and ivory white that one 
must see to appreciate. Well might Shelley ex- 
claim in despair, in description of another kind : 
"Words are ineffectual . . . Most words 
are so — ^No help I" He is surely rash who 
would attempt to describe a typical June morn- 
ing, and meadows, for miles, one glowing mass 
of color. They mock our senses, not appeal to 
them in a way we can compass. As is the gib- 
bering of apes to the speech of man, so is our 
best effort in sounding their praise to what 
their merit calls for. The saving grace of our 
words is that perchance others may see what we 
have seen. 

89 



TJie Rambles of an Idler 



It is not strange that as the month passes we 
often find ourselves in a profomidly medi- 
tative mood. I remember, as a little child, how 
eagerly I watched the preparations for the 
promised cakes for which I longed, and oh, how 
distant seemed the time when the dough was in 
the oven. July, August, September; these are 
the days when Nature is in the oven and the 
rambler must wait from now — the end of June 
— until October, before the feast is ready. 

July, August, September I I know nothing 
so fitting to say of them as that in ninety days 
it will be October. 

THE CAT-BIRD 

A singing bird, an oak tree's shade and grass 
That yet unwilted greens the gentle slope, 
The leisured clouds that loiter as they pass, 
To care a stranger and un-plagued by hope; 

Grant, kindly Fate, like blessing; not deny; 

All else, how little worth, in mid-July. 

The fervent fields aglow with summer heat, 
The steaming marshes reeking in their mist. 
Languid, the rippling river's pulses beat 
Where tide and meadow-shore have heartless kissed; 
They woo me not to wander hence, for I 
Find all that tempts me, here, in mid-July. 

90 



Impressions 



Here, with the singing bird and in the shade 
Where yet the violet retains its youth, 
Where moss, I fancy, for my limbs, was laid, 
Here sings to me the ever-welcome truth, 

" No thought of haste as pass the hours by — 
Life a long day-dream, now, in mid-July/' 

'Twas but a weary cat-bird sought its ease. 
In quest of comfort all too seldom found; 
Lulled by the murmur of the passing breeze. 
Sought the cool, leafy shade above the ground 
And cast a glance of pity from on high 
Upon the toiling world of mid-July. 

Then a brief message, slowly reaching earth, 
Few whispered words, yet freighted well with cheer,- 
" 'Twas not ill-fortune frowned upon thy birth. 
Since thou hast wit enough to seek me here; 

For greater blessing do not hope to try; 

Cool and content; what more, in mid-Julyt" 

Poet 
" Is that a worthy thought for man or birdt '* 

Cat-bird 
" The only thought, my friend, I ever heard.'* 

Foet 
"No higher aim throughout this life for theet 
Come, honest cat-bird, tell the truth to me." 
. 91 



The Bambles of an Idler 



Cat-bird 

" What goody at last, is man's philosophy t 
Better fat worms, or berries rich and red, 
Than the vain problems that perplex your head. 
Though, like prowling cat, I mew; 
As flitting bat when falls the dew; 
To myself, forever true 

And cheer with song as clever 
As any ever sung by you. 

Full earnest your endeavor. 
What if storm goes raging byt 
Does it dim my sparkling eyet 
Head at rest beneath my wing, 
For the moment cease to sing. 
Waiting, knowing, time will bring 
Clearer skies and then I hie. 
Though it be in mid-July, 
To the happy feeding ground; 
Food in plenty always found. 

Take a lesson, then, from me, 
Life is easy, would you see 
The wit of my philosophy, 

To Nature, blessed, who belong; 
With her army, millions strong. 
Hold not idleness is wrong. 
Freed from worry, join the throng. 
Swell the universal song. 

Birds and blossoms, field and tree. 

Freedom and Simplicity." 

92 



Impressions 



Poet 
^'Honest cat-bird^ can it be. 
All is thine and naught for mef 
Blessings only for the bird, 
Favors scant for human herdf 

Whence my shelter from the blast, 
Raging storms that night-long last? 
Whence my loaf and needed drink, 
Nature gives them, do you think! 
Wherewithal shall I be clothed! 
Nakedness is rightly loathed. 

Did I cease from daily toil. 
Cease my weary hands to soil, 
Cease my weary brain to use. 
Nature would her gifts refuse; 
life is far from liberty. 
If, cat-bird, you a man would be." 

Cat'hird 
^ Slave of customs that unmake, 
Customs sapping half your strength ; 
Canst no hint from Nature take! 
Wilt not wander any length 
From the beaten path so deep. 
You seldom o'er its edges peep! 

Ever bird, without a care, 
Would I be, as free as air; 
Shelter, food and clothing fine. 
With no thought of whence, are mine. 
And the beauties of the world 
Without effort are unfurled. 
93 



The Rambles of an Idler 



All you gain, ambitious man, 
Enters nothing in my plan. 
Free to come, to go, to see; 
Oh I ever blessM liberty. 
Heaven mine, un-reaehed by Hell, 
My simple song is, 'AH is well.'*' 

Sage or simple be the thought, 
Nonsense all the cat-bird taught. 
Yet it pleased my willing ear 
The cat-bird's earnest song to hear. 

How gladly would its methods try; 
Day-long on these mosses lie; 
Wander to some far-off glade; 
Rest within a cooler shade; 
Borne by breezes passing by. 
These seething days of mid-July. 

''Fool to think it!" say you, friend f 
Where does all our labor tendt 
Toil and sweat from youth to age. 
No thought of ease the heart engage; 
Then full rudely thrust aside. 
For another, opened wide, 
The door, the moment that you die 
And look upon eternity; 
Loiters in the house you build. 
Gathers from the fields you tilled 
All the harvest — this the way 
Burdened mortals get their pay. 

94 



Impressions 



Fool, I may be; be it so, 
Yet while free to come and go, 
This the silliness I teach. 
This the gospel moved to preach, 
Better, cat-bird, ten to one, 
Than harvesting in July's sun. 

Why pursue the fruitless theme t 
Mid-summer now and I would dream. 
Dream that happiness was mine. 
Dream ambition's height was reached, 
Dream that toil I could resign. 
Dream that all the cat-bird preached 
Was, at last, a world-wide truth. 
And I again an aimless youth; 

That life was living without care. 
With singing cat-birds, everywhere. 

Recently I chanced to pass by the three 
beeches as the sun was setting. Their massive 
trunks and far up-reaching branches impressed 
me, as they always do, and I stood for a mo- 
ment reverentially, as one might in a great 
cathedral. A solitary thrush, not far off, sang 
in its own sweetly meditative way, suggesting 
the cathedral's organist dreaming over the 
keys. The prevailing subdued light did not ob- 
scure the outlook. It was instead so far pene- 
trative that the more distant trees and thick-set 

95 



The Bambles of an Idler 



shrubbery stood boldly out, but it did command 
all things to silence, save that lonely thrush. 

My thoughts were quickly attuned to the de- 
lightful strains I heard. It was a season of 
meditation such as, I think, the one-time 
Friends enjoyed at Meeting, when their House 
stood in a spacious yard aloof from life's activ- 
ities. Vexing problems of life disappear at 
such a time; there is neither a remembering 
of trouble nor undue eagerness born of vain 
hope ; content prevails and a willingness to re- 
main .completely passive, awaiting in fullest 
confidence the decree of fate. Into such a sun- 
set light there comes no fear. Life is luxury, 
but to leave it then and there, no shock to us. 
It is, for the time, so near an approach to beat- 
itude that death would seem but swift transition 
to where such blissfulness prevails forever. 

Then, without warning, came a wondrous 
change. A rift in the leaden clouds let the red 
sunbeams through. Swift as the lightning, all 
nature was astir. The lonely thrush was 
roused to vigorous song and every warbler, 
quiet until now, joined in the chorus. All again 
was action; life was busy, full of aim and am- 
bition; the old story of struggle, victory and 

96 



Impressions 



defeat, life for the few and death for the many, 
was being retold. I hurried to a leafier glen 
where yet a gray light lingered. It was more 
in accord with what attracts me. There are 
many trains of thought so pleasant, I never 
tire of thinking, but they wisely shun the red 
light. That is the signal of war and I am a 
lover of peace. 

The attics of old houses have been pretty well 
ransacked^ — in imagination usually — ^but cellars 
have been overlooked. Now, as a matter of 
fact, cellars in old days were something more 
than square holes in the ground and meant more 
in household economy than now. They were 
divided into rooms and the milk-cellar, the pro- 
vision cellar and the general cellar each had its 
peculiar and deep significance to the colonial 
housewife. Modem methods have done away 
with all this and to-day, the cellars of the few 
old houses that remain are more often recep- 
tacles for rubbish than aught else. So much 
the worse for the health of the household: so 
much the better for the lover of such old scraps 
as have escaped destruction. At least, I the- 
orized in some such way. 

97 



The Rambles of an Idler 



The oldest cellar I have recently explored 
was dug in 1708 and it is as empty as the head 
of the man who owns it. The next in order was 
dug in 1737-38 and is a dark cavernous retreat 
that chills the explorer immediately on enter- 
ing it, so cold, clammy and musty is the air, or 
rather the dimly visible darkness that replaces 
normal atmosphere. Air or not, it is thick and 
so spidery that I recoiled at every forward step 
as the sheet-like webs touched me, and then, the 
muffled sounds were so suggestive of rats, bats 
and lurking vermin that had tunnelled under 
the thick walls from the outside world. On a 
summer day, it is hard to believe that such a 
place should be in the midst of light and gaiety. 
Here, Erebus, son of Chaos and brother of Nox, 
might feel at ease and take a mid-day nap in 
comfort, but no sane mortal is likely to follow 
in his footsteps. I go, not as a lover of dark- 
ness, but in a limited way, from a sense of duty, 
which is man's most disagreeable position in 
life. I am told I ought to explore that partic- 
ular cellar and submit, assuming the role of ex- 
plorer, much in the present fashion of that ilk, 
with modem improvements and taking care not 
to get nearer the real facts than comfort war- 

98 



Impressions 



rants. I am an ideal explorer, eager for un- 
limited glory and careful that no danger is ran 
in acquiring it. 

The anticipatory vision of rare furnishings, 
of pewter platters and brass candlesticks, of 
Canton china or a cow-skin trunk stuffed with 
pre-revolutionary documents; all the improba- 
bilities are ranged in a long panoramic way. 
Enthusiasm is at flood-tide. The all-powerful 
arm, against which darkness struggled in vain, 
is a lantern, and mine is of the most approved 
pattern; but like the modern repeating rifle, it 
is possible to fail us at a critical moment, and 
the marshalled hosts of Pluto prevail against 
it. In a cellar, obstacles are excellent strate- 
gists and when the field appears open and 
marching unobstructed, the unexpected hap- 
pens. It is no unusual experience of a life-time 
to have a lantern smashed and is the usual out- 
come of invading a colonial cellar. In this case 
I had taken but few steps when the feeble rays 
that merely accentuated the gloom, met an im- 
placable foe. The glass that armored the flame 
was shattered ; the flame itself succumbed and I, 
like Lord Ullin, **was left lamenting.'* 

Helplessness is never pleasant. It magnifies 
99 



The Rambles of an Idler 



the evil designs of all that surrounds ns and 
transforms friends to foes ; but helplessness in 
the black colonial cellar is an exaggeration be- 
yond language. We would delight in overhear- 
ing some people we know, when in such a fix. 
The mind flounders and has no use for common 
words. It is drowning, without the loss of 
breath and worse, not a movement is possible 
without collision. The implacable walls and 
immovable beams are loosened. One can stand 
rigid as a statue, so he thinks, but every beam 
proves a battering ram. Crouching is the only 
chance to escape annihilation and so, following 
what might be a solitary ray of light, as great 
a fool as myself to enter here, I sought the 
outer world. 

Doubtless colonial treasure galore, I left be- 
hind me, but there it may remain. Better to 
read what others have imagined of the good old 
days than seek for subterranean tangible evi- 
dences thereof; at least, it is wiser to wait until 
the house that covers it is removed and the 
blessed sunshine is your constant companion. 

The recent excessive rainfalls covering many 
days have had such effect upon the forest trees 

100 



Impressions 



that many of them have an abundance of new 
leaves. The delicate light green and yellowish 
or golden green on the elms, beeches and oaks 
have all the effect of inflorescence and the 
woods as seen from my hill-top yard are beauti- 
ful beyond the ordinary leafiness of mid-sum- 
mer. If mankind, more generally, would take 
a hint from this occasional phenomenon and 
deck themselves anew with the cheerfulness of 
youth, there would be brighter sunshine, in and 
out of doors. 

Of far more importance to me than my neigh- 
bors is to learn the effect, if any, of this new 
foliage upon the birds. I cannot positively as- 
sociate it with them as cause and effect, so far 
as their general activity and cheerfulness are 
concerned, for there is the question of coinci- 
dence ; but this is the banner year for birds, so 
far as my records, since 1874, show. Never 
have there been so many individuals and all the 
nesting species have been represented. To- 
day, July 22d, when ordinarily we must not 
expect much singing of birds, there is not a 
moment of silence. As I write — it is now 
mid-forenoon — not only the wrens, but the 
cardinal, song-sparrow, thrush, cat-bird, wood- 

101 



The Rambles of an Idler 



peewee and a white-eyed vireo are as vocal as 
ever in May; and now the question arises, 
whether or not the excessive moisture has not 
kept up the food supply and so the birds have 
their spring-tide vigor maintained. The sum- 
mer, thus far, has not been an average one. 
Vegetation and bird-life have wandered from 
their time-worn paths. What the inter-rela- 
tion, if any, let him who is curious, determine 
for himself. 

Now that the trolley railway has cut my fields 
in twain, there has been opened up a new high- 
way for birds, many kinds delighting in the 
poles, wires and the extended outlook. The 
more commonly noticed species are the robin, 
king-bird, indigo finch and blue-bird. They all 
sing or chatter constantly, and their united 
voices suggest the child's common exclamation 
over novelty: *^ Isn't this fun!" The cars 
passing at brief intervals do not disturb them 
much. They simply change their positions and 
continue their chattering as if never inter- 
rupted. It is comforting to know that the 
many changes of these recent years have not 
had the effect of driving away our birds. 
Again, the blessed blue-birds are a fixed fea- 

102 



Impressions 



ture. They were so some years ago, until their 
home, or headquarters, where they nested reg- 
ularly and roosted nightly, was destroyed. 
They were as firmly established as poultry in 
the yard, or the English sparrows. It required 
no persistent observation to see them, daily; 
not more than to see the sky. Perhaps it will 
be so again. It is five months since they have 
come back. No sooner were the wires strung, 
than the birds accepted the situation. Drifting 
on the wandering gusts of March, they found 
here a haven of rest and since then, not for a 
day, have they forsaken it. Where these blue 
birds nested, I do not know, but many young 
birds appeared in due season. Electricity has 
done much for us of late, but nothing better, to 
my mind, than re-establishing the blue-birds. 

Hot weather sounds are usually heard singly 
but, to-day, following so closely, there was no 
intervening moment of silence, were the cicada, 
the great crested fly-catcher, the cuckoo and the 
indigo bird. The first and last are the hottest 
sounds I know of. They mean summer to me 
as nothing else dpes. The fervent heat that 
sets the air over the fields all a-trembling; the 

103 



The Bambles of an Idler 



leaves that hang listlessly, pointing earthward; 
the grass that crackles under foot; the folded 
flowers awaiting the freshness of twilight — ^all 
these come to the front when I hear the cicada, 
our ** harvest fly," but not a fly of our harvest- 
time. They come after the grain is cut and the 
days have shortened by a full half hour. Like 
the leaf -cricket and the katy-did, cicadas are in 
place and accepted as a part of Nature's meth- 
ods, but the indigo bird causes some surprise. 
It is a tropical bird in appearance and likewise 
in its tastes. When the mercury is above one 
hundred in the open fields, it sings its loudest. 
It rejoices when men sulk and seek the shade, 
and is apt to be quiet on a rainy day. Myself 
in the shade, I watched one for exactly one 
hour. It left its perch only as a car passed and 
returned to it. In that time it sang without 
ceasing, except when on the wing. Truly, a 
hot-weather bird and from my point of view, a 
foolish one. 

A little later, thistle finches drifted by. 
Pretty birds and yet a neighbor could see no 
more in them than that they were *'the color of 
cup-custards." The curving twitter of their 
wavy flight is a hot-weather sound, but is com- 

104 



Impressions 



monly heard in winter also, when it seems quite 
in place. Theirs is an all-the-year-round song, 
but was of the heat, to-day, an intimate part 
and parcel. 

Stepping aside but a few paces, I reached the 
brook with its overhanging willows, maples, 
wild cherry and an endless tangle of grape and 
green brier. Here there was, I think, a differ- 
ence of twenty degrees in temperature. It was 
like entering an ice-house and what a delight to 
hear a tree-toad grumbling about the weather. 
I have been told that it was asking for rain and 
scolding because of too much of it ; and again, 
that whichever way the wind blows, it always 
grumbles; but I accept none of these state- 
ments. I believe it to be grunting its satisfac- 
tion over its peculiar lot in life. Our common 
hop-toad has been sagely commented upon and 
been called a philosophical creature, but the 
tree-toad, comfortably settled in a damp nook 
of an old apple tree, has solved the problem of 
existence without vexation. His, it is, to con- 
template the busy toilers that surround him and 
not wear out or rust out in so doing. There is 
the turtle in the mud of the meadow and the fish 
that dreamily floats where the cool spring water 

105 



The Rambles of an Idler 



enters the creek; there are mole-crickets in the 
damp earth and the woodchuck in his deep bur- 
row; all these are fairly fixed as to comfort, 
this warm weather, but all are liable to inter- 
ruption, all require to exert themselves upon 
occasion ; but with the tree-toad, it is one long 
day-dream, varied only with visions equally 
long at night. A tree-toad is an instance of 
embodied contemplation, of thought with a 
body that merely serves to anchor it. 

Happily, no degree of enthusiasm as to Na- 
ture stifles strictly human attributes. A walk 
in midsummer to be complete should have a 
happy ending. Its poetry should project itself 
into the prose of home-coming; but how best to 
accomplish this is an open question. My choice 
IS to pass unobserved into the cellar and eat a 
fair-sized wedge of blackberry pie. It must 
be done dexterously. No one must know of 
what we are doing, and above all not one drop 
of tell-tale juice must be in evidence. It is a 
difficult feat. There are few experts but I hold 
myself one of them, and yet it seldom happens 
that a curious expression is not noticed on 
others* faces as I re-appear. Life is less seri- 

106 



Impressions 



ous in the days of blackberry pie. To antici- 
pate it, when amid-fields, however hot the day, 
is, of itself, refreshing. 

Hearing its shrill call as I lingered nnder the 
oaks, I thought of other days when the Carolina 
wren is a more prominent feature of my hill- 
side slope. Now, in July, its varied notes are 
tiresome, but later the exodus of the summer's 
songsters would be a serious matter if there 
were no birds to take their places and for a 
season, silence reigned where music had been 
the foremost feature of the day. Happily, with 
the passing of the thrush, there comes to mind 
the necessity of greater sociability on the part 
of this Carolina wren and our regrets that the 
rose-breast and oriole have left us are softened 
by the earnest comforter which whistles with 
startling emphasis: Why heed it? Why heed 
it?^ 

It is well put. The wren offers to lead us 
into still pleasant places. Our summer friends 
will come again, but while away, it is not dis- 
loyalty to make new ones. Our wren is a bird 
of all the year, but never seen or heard to so 
great an advantage as when, to men's eyes, the 

107 



The Rambles of an Idler 



outlook is dreariest. Never the day so dismal 
that there is no redeeming feature. The voice 
of a bird above the roar of the tempest bears a 
weightier message than many a cherished pro- 
verb. Nature does not waste words with us. 
There is abundant reason for so doing when 
the Carolina wren sends this cheerful query 
ringing through the woods: Why heed it? 
Why heed it? Though the impenetrable clouds 
droop earthward until upland and meadow are 
covered as with a pall; though there be but 
dripping branches and sodden grass, and the 
air chilling, as we breathe it, until we shudder 
and long for the cheerful glow of the fire-side, 
why heed it? Destruction is not being dealt 
out to us. The world is worth a visit, even at 
such a time, or why the unsheltered wren so 
cheerful? The meaning of its words will be 
made plain, if we walk yet a little farther into 
the fields. There still remain, even in Febru- 
ary, a red berry and a green leaf. 

I interpret the wren's enthusiasm to thank- 
fulness that trifles remain, and a word here as 
to Nature's trifles. Are we so very wise that a 
single leaf can be overlooked or a red berry be 
disregarded? Tell me, first, why any leaf is 

108 



Impressions 



still green and how this berry has escaped de- 
struction? To grow wildly ecstatic over a 
summer landscape is not evidence of erudition 
equal to its comprehension. The flood-tide of 
Nature's activities may well bewilder us, but 
not so the trifle of a frost-defying bit of sod, 
with a green leaf, or even a blossom. The 
wren that discovers this has cause for rejoic- 
ing, and if the elements are rude and Winter 
blusters in his surliest mood, that bird is blessed 
who from its heart can shout. Why heed it? why 
heed it? 

I have braved many a winter storm that I 
might hear some bird of the season. Encour- 
aged by the good-natured bantering of this 
wren, I have not heeded the discomforts of keen 
winds or driving snow, but sought those shel- 
tered nooks where I knew the birds had gath- 
ered, and never have they turned their backs 
upon me. When Nature's guest, I am happy. 

**He knows what's what!" remarked my 
companion. * * Does he ? — indeed I " I exclaimed, 
with mock astonishment, adding: **Then he's 
the greatest curiosity on earth !" 

I have learned to be careful how I pin my 
109 



Tlie Rambles of an Idler 



faith on the extraordinarily learned; for, oc- 
casionally, it has proved tiiat, like the nnco* 
good, they fail us when we least expect it. This 
feeling has no reference to learning or good- 
ness per se\ but the fallibility of humanity 
must never be a forgotten factor. Knowledge 
in excess of our own magnifies its possessor; 
and we measure his strength by tiie exagger- 
ated outlines of this supposed giant. But, 
when the hour of test comes, and, eager to 
profit by reason of his superior knowledge, we 
are all expectation, how grievously disappointed 
we may find ourselves at its close — ^if not long 
before the interview is ended ! 

Geologists are given to coming this way, at 
times, and, with a majestic sweep of the hand 
and piercing glance of the eye, tell us, in terms 
too clear to be misconstrued, what we already 
know ; or else inform us, with scarcely less em- 
phasis, what we know to be not true. It may be 
easy to read the riddle of the rocks ; but here we 
have only sand and gravel, and of the floods 
and local cataclysms that arranged and re-ar- 
ranged it all, and the intervening periods of 
quiescence when the sun baked the mud, and, 
again reduced it to sand and water, perhaps 

110 



Impressions 



giving weeds a chance to grow, we know very- 
little. 

One prominently outstanding fact is that at- 
tempted histories, as yet, are continually con- 
tradicted, as we see new exposures of the vari- 
ous deposits. They are to be accepted as of no 
greater value than that of being suggestive. 
We can gather useful hints from the literature 
of the subject, but little else. Yet, not an au- 
thor but has laid down the ** facts'' as a judge 
does the law — ^that thus-and-so was the se- 
quence of events from the fierce arctic condi- 
tions of the glacial period to the present day. 
This is not too strong a statement; for each 
geologist, as he comes, contradicts his predeces- 
sor, leaving the poor layman, as he grows older, 
to find only confusion steadily worse con- 
founded. Can it be, as in some other occupa- 
tions in this life, geologists are at their best 
when not discussing geological subjects? 

By actual count, taking notes of what was 
said in the field at the time, in their presence, 
I find that eleven men have expressed sixteen 
opinions — ^five of them strongly inclined to 
their favorite explanation, but adding: **0r, it 
might have been that *' 



111 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Fatal words ! Yes : * * It might have been * ' — 
that Nature pursued the plan that she does to- 
day, and these things that are such a puzzle are 
susceptible of a simple explanation. It might 
have been that the cold weather became Spring- 
like, and the raging torrent became an ordinary 
freshet, and sand instead of rocks came down 
the valley, and, when there was not enougft 
water to fill this valley to the brim, it flowed 
at a lower level, until, as at this writing, we can 
almost cross the river, dry-shod, jumping a lit- 
tle, here-and-there. The simplest explanation 
is the best in the long run for laymen ; and this 
plunging of the earth's surface into ocean's 
depths and uplifting it to the mountain's top is 
too much of a tax upon the non-scientific mind. 
It is, at best, a bold assumption, to print which 
gets the bewildered geologist out of an ugly fix. 

However, there is something very attractive 
in the geologist's *4t might have been." It af- 
fords, as naught else can, a graceful back-door 
through which to disappear as theories become 
untenable. Since the glacial period was first 
discussed, this back-door has never been locked. 
When it is, the layman can accept statements 
with confidence — ^but not until then. When 

112 



Impressions 



the back-door is locked; when geologists cease 
to contradict; 

When, open-eyed, we see, from Heaven's height 

The earth where long we groped in darkness drear. 

Then and there only, banished is the night; 

Suggestion vague turned to conception clear! 

Geologists are not the only qneer people we 
meet. There is a pseudo-scientific clique that 
appropriates the title of ** archaeologist," and 
asks us to believe a great deal more than the 
meagre facts warrant. These men all know 
what^s what when specimens are produced, and 
spin marvelous yams concerning every odd 
shape of worked stone. The jagged edge of a 
chipped stone is always a saw; and the iron in 
any stone implement, reddening, by oxidation 
its surface, is always a blood-stain. The sim- 
plest scratches on a clay bowl are claimed to 
be of marvelous significance. The question 
arises : Would the old-time Indians recognize 
themselves could they read the papers read at 
archaeological conventions? 

There is always something impressive in see- 
ing objects that are very old. To hold even so 
simple a thing as an arrow-point and consider 

113 



The Eambles of an Idler 



its certain history, its Indian origin, its evident 
purpose, and what might have been its career 
ages ago, always arouses in us a degree of in- 
terest that is pleasurable ; and this increases as 
evidence of antiquity is brought before us. 
Yet, the enthusiasm of the archaeologist, lead- 
ing to endless extravagances and fantastic the- 
ory, is persistently contradictory the moment 
the ma.ximum degree of antiquity is mentioned. 
When man first appeared on the American con- 
tinent, possibly we may never know; but that 
evidence which makes his antiquity a geological 
question is abundant and no less unmistakable 
than the traces supposedly indicative of his 
subsequent career. If geologists are timid, 
archaeologists are overbold ; and the lack of in- 
formation from the former and the clack of the 
latter leave us ignorant where we would be 
wise, and doubtful if either really knows 
** what's what*' even when he sees it. 

The botanist and entomologist are the only 
specialists we have met, of late, who speak un- 
hesitatingly. Flowers and butterflies, trees 
and the beetles that bore into them, are unmis- 
takable. We know an oak or an elm, when we 
see them; and their respective insect-foes are 

114 



Impressions 



readily recognized. This is a comfort greater 
than the uninitiated suspect. Specialists who 
are afraid to speak, and keep the ** back-door*^ 
ever open, are the greatest bores on earth. It 
is a trifle discouraging to find ourselves, at this 
late day, still in the dark concerning the com- 
moner forms of life. The man who knows 
what's what, and will throw light over it all, 
has not yet appeared upon the scene. However 
diligently we study and finally convince our- 
selves that we are right, there is always a spe- 
cialist crossing our path and assuring us we are 
wrong; and another in his tracks, agreeing only 
that the poor layman is wrong, but placing his 
error on a different basis. 

If happiness depended upon the exactitude of 
our knowledge, then, indeed, would we be mis- 
erable I 

During the past year I removed each morn- 
ing from a calendar the slip of paper bearing 
the previous day's date, and upon which was 
a quotation. At the year's close I had read 
365 brief selections from a modem author's 
works, and was forced to the unwelcome con- 
clusion that fully three hundred of the whole 

115 



The Rambles of an Idler 



were echoes of writers who had lived and died 
anywhere from five thousand years to a century 
ago. In short, I had been treated not so much 
to the author's "works" as to his stealings — 
or, more politely, his unconscious appropria- 
tion of others' thoughts. 

The above is not an extravagant statement. 
Early in January it occurred to me that the 
quotations for each day had a familiar ring, 
and I was surprised to find how our modem 
author suffered when put to the test of heart- 
less parallels. 

That the same idea should arise, even when 
men and manners have radically changed, need 
not excite surprise. The ocean or a mountain 
range, a shipwreck or a more commonplace inci- 
dent, may similarly impress two or more wit- 
nesses who recount it ; but the ear-mark of orig- 
inality will, in each case, be there. Mere sim- 
ilarity of thought is not to be mistaken for the 
blundering reproduction of a master's words, 
or the careless adaptation of a familiar 
thought. The brief comment on a passing oc- 
currence, a flash of wit, or a description in a 
few words of a sunset or the sea, born in the 
brain of greatness, stands for all time as the 

116 



Impressions 



perfection of word-painting. To change its 
setting is to mar its beanty. 

From whom Job and Jeremiah, Solomon and 
the author of **Ecclesiastes" quoted — ^if they 
did quote — ^probably no one will ever know; 
but later literati have quoted them, and they 
have, in turn, been quoted, with such changes in 
each case as gave the latest version the appear- 
ance of a new-bom thought. The original ver- 
sion and the latest may be widely different in 
form; but there is — ^unfortunately for most 
claimants to originality — an unbroken series 
of versions in literature, from dim antiquity 
until to-day. 

A large proportion of the good things now 
offered are cunningly adapted appropriations, 
and he appears to be the most successful ** au- 
thor'* who most skillfully conceals the sources 
of his material. The reason is not hard to find. 
The literary man is too much concerned with 
books and too little with the fountain-head of 
inspiration — ^Nature. 

Books that are the outgrowth of older books 
may have their place, and poems that tell the 
same story greater poets have already told 
may please the reader; but is it quite fair to 

117 



The Eambles of an Idler 



the memory of the truly great of other ages 
that the truth should be suppressed! The fact 
is indisputable that the century just closed 
has given the world but very little originality. 
If this blessed quality is exhausted, then let 
the fact be candidly admitted; and, instead of 
new '* authors,*' let us have new ** adapters.'* 
New versions of old stories printed as such will 
be so far welcome as possibly to warrant their 
publication; but let us not hail as an origin- 
ator one who has no originality. However 
smooth the prose or liquid the verse, correct the 
rhyme and accurate the metre, if the idea 
clothed in a new suit of words is an old idea, 
let it be so heralded. 

If this severe but just measure is applied by 
the historian to the writers of the past century, 
those truly original are quickly named. Per- 
haps, we have had a million books in the last 
one hundred years, but, have we had a thousand 
genuinely-new ideas? Have we had a hun- 
dred? 

Place modern literature in another light, and 
see how far it has added new words or phrases 
to our speech. For long we have had Homeric, 
Virgilic, and Aristotelian; Dantesque, Shakes- 

118 



Impressions 



pearean, and Darwinian. Probably, a few 
more names might properly be used to mark an 
epoch. Here, in America, we have Emerson- 
ian. These are words necessity has coined. 
They were called for because originality had 
asserted itself. Only with them can we make 
ourselves readily intelligible. 

The world has not been lazy in science ; and 
we are fairly stunned by the magnificent 
achievements made in endless directions. The 
triumphs of engineering skill in building cities 
and bridging rivers, and the grand results of 
biological research, leaving the mind no longer 
groveling in ignorance as to the problems of 
life's origin and destiny, are suflficient to show 
what has been done in other phases of human 
activity; but nothing in like exultant strain 
can be said of literature. It is, at best — save 
here and there, a sadly-lonely page — an echo 
of an echo that, repeated and re-repeated, has 
come down, century after century. It has only 
been necessary to tell an old story, with trifling 
change, to gain the world's plaudits, and be 
called an *' author." 

If this be recognized as a valid criticism, and 
an honest desire for originality be created, 

119 



The Bambles of an Idler 



whither must the aspiring writer goT Surely, 
not to the library. Hindrances only will be 
there. A new book — new in every sense — 
should be conceived, if not written, where books 
are never seen, but wherever the stem realities 
of life are all-absorbing — ^amid bustling activ- 
ity and the fiercer struggles for bare existence ; 
or in green fields, where Nature holds sway and 
is never idle; or on a mountain-top, where 
freshest breezes blow; or deep down in the val- 
ley, where trickling waters are wearing away 
the rocks; anywhere that books are not, the 
breath of life may enter into an honest thought 
— ^an actually-new creation I 

What constitutes a new idea is as evident as 
the fraud of old ones set-up as new is patent. 
It is something not previously thought — a 
new combination of familiar facts giving in 
their association a strictly novel impression. 
Such ideas occasionally burst upon the world 
in the past century, and are to be remembered 
with its notable meteors and comets. 

As the race of writers is likely not to grow 
less, the effort for their betterment should be 
very earnest ; but whether such effort will ever 
be made is problematical. Unfortunately, 

120 



Impressions 



those who read are not sufficiently exacting. 
It is an open question whether originality is as 
much desired as it should be. 

This is a grave charge against our intellect- 
ual status ; but it would seem as if the setting- 
forth of matter in a manner even suggestive 
of originality is banned by the majority of 
critics. The greater the earnestness of an au- 
thor, the greater his condemnation. The mod- 
ern reader does not wish to be forced to think. 
Familiar with certain conditions, his mind is 
gently stirred to mild activity as the leaves of 
the last new book are turned. It is exertion 
enough to smile at the wit that lost its fresh- 
ness a thousand years ago; but an outburst of 
novelty would command close attention, a knit- 
ting of the eyebrows, a sharp exclamation of 
dissent, or applause more vigorous than an ap- 
proving nod. No — ^no ! That would never do ! 
Ease of mind or of body is too delightful to 
be disturbed. Oling, rather, to the inappli- 
cable proverbs of Solomon than have the mem- 
ory taxed with new ones better fitted to our 
own day. 

Judging from the undoubted skill of many of 
our most prominent writers, the power to pro- 

121 



CHAPTER TWO 

INTERPRETATIONS 

A crow was flying against the wind, crossing 
the flooded meadows and nearing the bluff 
whereon I stood. As I am not a crow, I am ig- 
norant of its purpose, and being human — 
which is synonymous with being inquisitive — 
I wonder where the bird is going and on what 
errand. I have said, *'I wonder," but I do not. 
I assume to know and say to myself, "It is in 
search of its breakfast." The time of day sug- 
gests it, and I assume the truth of the assump- 
tion. It is just sunrise and a flood of glitter- 
ing light almost shuts from view the flood of 
waters beneath it. Content with supposed 
knowledge, I go a step farther and determine 
what the crow will find to eat, and having thus 
solved the entire corvine problem, I turn my at- 
tention to more cheerful matters. 

Is this not the way that Nature is generally- 
124 - 



Interpretations 



interpreted and if so, the question arises, How 
far have we wandered from the facts! 

While yet the crow was in sight, a Carolina 
wren rushed from nowhere into visible space. 
It came to view, like a flash of lightning, but 
unlike the flash, remained. All this of its own 
volition, is my assumption, but other causes may 
have operated. We assume the bird to be a 
free-agent — ^no such condition ever existed — 
and theorize accordingly. Tarrying on a bare 
twig, the wren sings Mer-ri-lee, over and over 
agaio. No other wren replies; no birds of 
other species pay attention ; we conclude that it 
is singing for its own satisfaction. Do we 
know! Is a word of what I have written, in 
any sense, correct interpretation! Yet, con- 
scious of our inability to fathom the impulse of 
a passing bird, if we weave no net to cast 
over every crow and wren we meet, the interest 
in such interviews would vanish. It was only a 
crow and a wren at this early hour, but they 
filled the landscape as completely as a flock of 
either might have done. Every mesh of the 
net I had woven was a pleasing thought, and 
casting it about the birds, I was also entangled- 
Irresponsible thought, not a soulless realiza- 

125 



The Rambles of an Idler 



tion of truth, possessed me. It is often so, and 
we place too high a value on such idle thinking. 
It ever poses as something it is not. 

The crow swerved from the straight line of 
its flight and circled over the water; the wren 
never ceased its singing. Why! If we are 
moved continually to ask questions, a very little 
will shut from view the world as a whole, and 
if long puzzled by a minor detail, what of 
Earth's entirety! The naturalist goes forth in 
confidence to explain away obscurities, to let 
light into the dark places, to bring all things 
easily within our grasp. Does he! Few in- 
deed are the interpretations to which the whole 
world assents. Who has proved that the wren 
is singing for its own entertainment? Why is 
the crow circling above the flooded meadow? 
Is not my ** breakfast" theory all moonshine? 
A library is ten thousand assertions and twice 
ten thousand contradictions. 

We must not take Nature or our views of it 
too seriously. They are excellent in their 
proper place and a source of sorrow out of it. 
To interpret what we see is a mighty task, un- 
der which Titanic shoulders bend, but to 
weave a few fancies fits the passing day and 

126 



Interpretations 



the average mortal. Philosophers are few and 
far between. We can look at them as we do 
mountains in the distance. They fill a place in 
our outlook but we need not mope because they 
are inaccessible. Be king in the kingdom of 
your own mind, and not attempting the impos- 
sible, happiness is assured. 

I looked upon the crow and the wren as my 
friends, but they looked on me as an enemy. 
To disabuse them of a wrong impression was 
not possible, so I was at every disadvantage. I 
hailed them as comrades and they shouted 
back, ''You liel" A nice condition of affairs, 
truly, but what was I to do! Go home and 
mope 1 No ; I will at least ' ' make believe ' ' they 
are friendly and have as good a time as pos- 
sible. Go in that spirit and a pleasant and 
profitable outing is assured. 

Crows represent the more serious aspects of 
Nature; the wren stands for Nature when she 
relapses and mirth is uppermost. The misfor- 
tune of the crow is that it is common. If sel- 
dom in evidence every quality would shine with 
unwonted lustre ; indeed, if we followed the lit- 
erary naturalist, every crow would be a raven 
and the commonplace caw be an ominous croak. 

127 



The Bambles of an Idler 



Quoth the raven, ''Nevermore,'* and how weird 
and nncanny is this lover of "Night's Plntonian 
shore;" but caws the crow, "Evermore" and 
alas ! we simply grow tired of the iteration. So 
much, for indolent interpretation, but if judged 
more justly, the vocabulary of the crow would 
rouse as much interest as has the raven's. The 
old story: more wonderful matter in the home 
valley than in all the mountains beyond; but 
because they are beyond, the mountains are ver- 
itable treasures of all we can desire. The mys- 
terious unknown enslaves us ; that which is fa- 
miliar, we despise. Ever longing for the im- 
practicable raven and indifferent to crows. 
But honors are easy ; the crows despise us and 
with good reason. There is seldom a man who 
is as cunning as they are. 

A hundred of these fine birds have come in- 
land from the river. The familiar meadows 
are now an unfamiliar lake and how they chat- 
ter over the new conditions! A clamor has 
arisen that drowns the minor voices of the 
awakening world. It is the last day of Febru- 
ary and a south-east wind is blowing. Do the 
crows know that it is the last day of nominal 
winter? Whether they keep a record of the 

128 



Interpretations 



years or not, they act as record-keepers for 
him who loves an outing. The warm wind, the 
excited birds,, the softer tone in the tall pine- 
tree's top; only now the velvet glove and no 
suspicion of the iron hand. The crows inter- 
pret the significance of the day and I take my 
cue from them. An unwise interpretation and 
a lowering of man to a bird's level, it is as- 
serted, but the day is more attractive because 
of it all. It is the part of wisdom to play the 
fool upon occasion, if doing as I have done, is 
to play the fool. 

I love the cawing of the crow because it gives 
rise to reminiscence. The cries of this bird 
were a childish wonder more than half a cen- 
tury ago. I strove even then to encompass 
their meaning and from that day until now, and 
the half century gone, I am still in the dark. 
Corvine literature covers many pages. As a 
whole, it reminds me of the mocker nut. There 
is an almost unbreakable shell and supposedly 
a kernel of the sweetest meat. As yet, only my 
fingers have been cut by the jagged edges of the 
broken cover. It is but a step, happily, from 
the book to the bird. I say, happily, for it is 
from darkness unto light. Under the open sky, 

129 



The Bambles of an Idler 



into the fresh air, cheered by the swellmg leaf- 
bods, stunulated by the odor of the juicy turf 
and by sight of that first fruit of the promised 
spring, skunk cabbage, gorgeously arrayed. 
These are the belongings, so to speak, of the 
cawing of the crow. The long, dreary winter 
through, the crow has hinted of them, and now 
there is exultation over the hint made good. 
There may be rugged winter yet for three more 
weeks. The almanac promises that, but the 
crows rise above such soulless mathematics and 
declare it is spring now. Liars, every one of 
them, but what of that? Are their feathers 
black because of this grievous fault? We 
would miss much if we did not occasionally de- 
ceive ourselves. The Winter that is yet lying 
in wait for the poor rambler can have his full 
swing and welcome, when he can get it. I, 
for one, will not complain, but to-day the south 
wind holds him back and I will have my in- 
nings. There is a suggestion of the new order 
and with so slight a tool as this I will build a 
castle that will last me for the passing hour. 
If a day-dream is so vivid that it has all the 
charm of reality, pray, what value over it, has 
the reality? I am as happy as the crows about 

130 



Interpretations 



me and that is ample for my needs and, strange 
enough in this world, it reaches to the outer- 
bounds of my desires. I am happy, too, be- 
cause the crows are and so I hail them as my 
friends. It is true, they will not interpret 
aright my meaning, but this shall not cast a 
shadow over my sun-bright sky. 

All the while, the quick wren has been sing- 
ing. Quickened unto a fuller life than any man 
can lead, the wren is my leader and I fall be- 
hind it so far that I am not in strict sense a 
follower. Mer-ri'lee, Mer-ri-leey Mer-ri-leel 
Three times over and never with a lack of en- 
ergy, though now it has been singing for full 
five minutes. That is a longer period in the 
wren's calculations than twelve times five in 
ours. The eye can follow when the body can-* 
not, and now that I force the bird to quit its 
perch, it is marvellous to see what a range of 
country it covers in a brief moment. From 
tree to tree, down to the ground in a tangle of 
smilax and up to the peak of the bam roof. 
Through the cavernous old mows and out at a 
knot-hole and back again to its starting point, 
and all the while declaring itself to be taking 
life Mer-ri-lee, Mer-ri-lee, Mer-ri-lee/ 

131 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I wonder when this strange bird stops to feed 
and if it retires at an early hour after so active 
a day, but to attempt to solve any problem of 
wren-dom is vain. My interpretation may be 
wide of the mark, bnt it soothes my vanity, 
which is sufficient exeose for its being. I must 
reach to some conclusion. Failing in that is 
to go mad. Whether early to bed or not, the 
wren is an early riser. Long before my own 
inclinations to be abroad have shaped them- 
selves, the wren is all too apt to be just outside 
my window, shouting, in energetic tones, the 
merits of the morning. 

I confess to weariness of the flesh, at times, 
and latterly, have seen paths too rugged for my 
feet. The wren therefore does not appeal to 
me as did the crows. They are too quick for 
my sluggish pulse and all I would know of 
them is beyond my interpretative power. I can 
but translate their song of this morning as 
Mer-ri-leel and if I saw aright, their actions 
fitted the word. 

The morning wears away and I am ready to 
return. There is yet much to be done, digest- 
ing my impressions. Were they greater in 
number, I might lose the spirit of them all. It 

132 



Interpretations 



is far easier to see too much than too little. 
The lack of mad-cap, feverish adventure has 
not occurred to me. The day seemed full, and 
what seems, is, in the chop-logic of an idle ram- 
bler. I cannot worry over the niceties of 
language and the proprieties of thought. Na- 
ture is intelligible without them, or we think it 
so, which equally meets our purpose. What the 
crows and the wren are to Nature is one thing; 
what they were to me, is quite another. I may 
have misread, but that did not harm them. 
They certainly misinterpreted me, but I was 
not cast down. The truth would scarcely have 
made the day better. Crows, wren, rambler; 
all were happy. For each and all the world 
was as it should be. I have never known bet- 
ter birds, nor have I aspirations. Blessed are 
the poor who have no rich relations. They es- 
cape the pangs of the envious. 

As I find it set down in the almanac. Spring 
commences at 8 :16 A. M. this twenty-first day of 
March, and at the proper tick of the clock, I put 
my best foot forward to see what is or has been 
the initial movement in Nature, but all to no 
use. That magic moment was a matter of the 

133 



The Rambles of an Idler 



sun, moan, stars, i>erhaps the milky way and a 
vagrant comet, but not a sign on this old Earth, 
which of all the bodies pitching headlong 
through space alone concerns me. 

It is very kind of almanac-authors to tell us 
just when spring commences. I know of no 
pleasanter reading in the depth of winter. If 
I take down the pamphlet from its brass hook 
on the mantel to see when the moon changes I 
always turn also to this delightful date and let 
fancy indulge in sky-larking. So doing, bright- 
ens many an otherwise dull winter day. 

For many a week I have been looking for- 
ward, and now here among the old oaks, with 
meadows before me and the distant hills but 
dimly outlined, I am in the actual presence of 
an instant set aside for peculiar honors. No, I 
am not. It was 8 :16 A. M. five minutes ago and 
the commencement of spring has passed into the 
progress of the blessed season. Small progress 
yet but many have been the preparations, and 
these may very properly and profitably concern 
us. I had already interpreted many. The lit- 
tle hylodes and the hylas have been making the 
air tremble over the marshes since the eleventh, 
and as if that were too little to command at- 

134 



Interpretations 



tention, robins, blue-birds, song-sparrows, the 
cardinal, Carolina wren and crested tit have 
not been quiet except after sunset and not al- 
ways then, and an hour before sunrise every one 
is up, about and tuneful. Killdee plover, too, 
have been trooping over the house and whether 
or not they had a message for me, I heard their 
clear whistle and interpreted it as a hiut to be 
as wide-awake as every bird about me. 

There were other birds, to say nothing of 
crows, hawks and blue-jays, but let that pass. 
The day's incidents are major and minor and 
the former claim our attention; perhaps too 
closely, for not always the loudest noise is full- 
est of suggestion. The quiet remark of a 
thoughtful man may be weightier than the 
clamor of a thoughtless crowd. Because it is 
the custom to be guarded in assertion, I sug- 
gested the probability mechanically. So much 
for being a slave to custom. The truth is, the 
clamor of a crowd has as little import as the 
steady hum of children's voices when at play. 
Boys shout when they rush from school. It is 
the expression of pent-up energy and addressed 
to no one. I think not one boy in a hundred is 
aware that he has shouted. So with the clamor 

135 



The Bambles of an Idler 



of an excited crowd. One calm man that knows 
the secret of it ^11 can hnsh a multitude by a 
wave of the hand. This is one of the much 
talked of "eternal verities," rarest of entities 
in this world, but innumerable are the quips and 
oddities that masquerade in their old clothes. 

Is it safe to interpret the grand volume of 
song and sound that seems to shake the earth in 
some such contemptuous manner? It is not an 
uncommon setting-forth of its significance, for 
Nature has not always been fairly dealt with. 
I liken all I now hear to the steady hum of in- 
dustry when men are at work. 

The world is now very busy; that out-door 
world, I mean, which is blessedly non-human, 
where two and two make four and sophistry is 
never dreamed of. Nature's abiding-place. 
Where creature looks creature in the face and 
whether it is peace or war, there is no lying 
about it. The permanent residence of His 
Majesty, the Truth. 

What I would know is what in place of an al- 
manac has wild-life to guide it? Wild-life, per 
force of habit of expression ; superlatively ra- 
tional life in fact, another of the world's '^eter- 
nal verities.'' 

136 



Interpretations 



Neither bird nor beast is weather-wise beyond 
possibility of disaster, yet I believe statistics, if 
obtainable, would show they are ahead of the 
lords of creation, or, more correctly speaking, 
the climax of evolution. Every bird has taken 
upon itself, to-day, to proclaim the opening of 
spring, if I interpret them aright, but whence 
their knowledge! They have foreseen it all too 
and what little can we imagine of their mental 
process ! It may be said that the frost is out 
of the ground and the sun-warmth has been 
sufficient to rouse the frogs from their lethargic 
sleep, but this apparently reasonable explana- 
tion falls short. The frog that slept grew while 
it was sleeping and has energies now which it 
had not when the initial frosts of autumn sent it 
to cover. Sleep is not so near to stagnation as 
has been held. It is still less like death. Every 
bird, too, that weathered the winter stands in a 
new light. Not one is its old self and what is 
the hieroglyphic on rock or tree that it has de- 
ciphered! I can read the almanac and put on a 
knowing air at will, but to what authority does 
the song-sparrow refer! I do not see them 
scanning the freshening moss or gathering 
about skunk cabbage and discussing the gold 

137 



The Rambles of an Idler 



and bronze and pnrple of its anticipatory 
growth. Perhaps the birds have noticed that 
the daffodils are above ground hot I for one am 
not snre and I pin no faith on the assertions of 
those who are unqualifiedly positive. I will not 
deny that every frog and bird, this eventful day, 
is wiser than Solomon as to weather, season and 
all that is to be, but I am not. There have been 
too many snow storms in April that I cannot 
forget, and a snow-drift in May through which 
I wallowed to pick dog-wood blossoms. Man's 
memory as to the past makes him conjectural as 
to the future and there it ends with him, but 
every bird, this morning, poses as a prophet. 
So, at least, I interpret each and all of them. 
In such light they are the more companionable 
and that means much. There is a vast deal of 
satisfaction to be derived from ignorance or 
misinterpretation, when mathematical demon- 
stration is impracticable. I am not necessarily 
unhappy because Nature may be making a fool 
of me. I take what seems to me to be a rational 
view of what is going on. We have but to 
clothe with plausibility any outcome of the im- 
agination and it will pass for a fact. All that 
we need to remember is that the future may 

138 



Interpretations 



strip it of its garb. This the inevitable result 
of our imperfection as interpreters, and he who 
is quickest to unlearn becomes at last the most 
learned. It is not more necessary to acquire 
facts than to unload false impressions. The 
weak view that it reflects upon our intelligence 
to admit that we have been misled is ever a 
prominent obstacle in the pathway to a right un- 
derstanding. 

This is March 21st and with a full apprecia- 
tion of the conditions that now are, here I find 
myself at the parting of the ways. I hope for, 
indeed, rather confidently believe and plan ac- 
cording to what I think is before me, and all is 
based upon experience. But not a bird or a 
frog that gives heed to a recollection of another 
year, if it has one ; yet every one of these crea- 
tures is equally confident with myself as to that 
which is approaching. The power that tells 
them denies me the same knowledge. So far 
only am I confident. This then the difference 
between human and non-human life, and it is a 
wide one ; but seen in another light, we are not 
so far apart I am hopeful of fair weather, 
abundant sunshine and budding trees. They 
are sure of it. Other possibilities never occur 

139 



The Eambles of an Idler 



to them and, we may, all of us, be bitterly dis- 
appointed. Spring commenced at 8:16 A. M., 
March 21st, it is true, but winter does not al- 
ways die nor even abdicate on this same day. 
It is not succession : Winter is dead ! Long live 
the Spring! but a struggle for place and power 
with the immediate outcome exasperatingly in 
doubt at times, however certain the ultimate re- 
sult. Less than a century ago we had ice every, 
month in the year. 

Doubt is not altogether an unknown quantity 
in animal mind, but it centres on objects rather 
than generalities. Snakes are always chary 
about haste in this matter of sunshine usurping 
the time-honored seat of frost. Perhaps some 
unexpected turn of aflfairs resulted in the pre- 
maturely turning out of the big, sleepy water 
snake before me. On a mat of dry dead grass, 
sheltered from the wind and in unobstructed 
sunshine, it is the picture of comfort It is 
true that, of all our serpents, this is the earliest 
species astir, and ready, I am told, to dine 
off a sucker when the latter lumpish fish crowd 
the tide-full ditches at this time of year. The 
particular snake before me is so tightly coiled 
that it covers scarcely more space than grand- 

140 



Interpretations 



father *s old pewter dinner plates, but I see it is 
heaped up in the middle so as to form a low 
cone rather than a flat coil. Shaped like a gen- 
erous mince pie such as hungry boys, in late 
years, attribute to indulgent grandmothers, par- 
ticularly when the maternal product is wisely, 
more sparingly, dealt out. Of course it will 
occur to everyone that it is a long call from 
snakes to pie, but herein is the teasing and yet 
charm of out-door meditations. No one object 
can fix our attention long, and imagination al- 
ways travels in seven league boots. 

I was sorry to disturb his snake-ship, but the 
demands of curiosity are imperious. Prodding 
the reptile gently, it slowly straightened out, but 
made no protest as any summer snake would do. 
As the coils relaxed, a thin covering of mud on 
the scales cracked and fell away in little flakes. 
Again I thought of grandmother *s pie-crust and 
its precious crumbs. The snake glided away 
with that minimum exertion of effort that sug- 
gests it has but to will to move and lo! it is ac- 
complished. This extra-early water-snake was 
no ** ophidian acrobat'' as is one other species 
common here, but showed not a trace of slug- 
gishness when forced to move. It was free as 

141 



The Rambles of an Idler 



the birds above it and now again in the warm 
mud of the ditch — out of sight, out of mind — 
I turn once more to the birds. I would I could 
always tell which song of the morning is the 
key-note of the day. It is a matter of more im- 
portance than many may believe. The pee-wee 
is abroad and were its mournful note taken as 
your cue, the day would be less exuberant and 
enthusiasm be repressed. There are days when 
the pee-wee is their best historian — ^languid 
August days for instance, when exertion means 
great labor for a slight return — but not to-day. 
This is March 21st, the birthday of Action ; here, 
on this particular dot on the earth's surface, the 
true New Year's day. The day of Nature 's own 
appointment and the real day still. Man's in- 
terference results in an illogical almanac, but 
the facts are unaltered. The new season is 
here. The cardinal proclaimed it. It will be 
crowned later, when the violets are in bloom. 
The cardinal proclaimed it and the polyglot 
wren took up and re-told the story with added 
energy, and the blue-bird whispered the secret 
in the silent woods, and the robins shouted it 
abroad after the world knew all about it I ac- 
cept the whistle of the cardinal as the key-note 

142 



Interpretations 



of the day. Joy, energy and hope are writ with 
cloud-built letters across the sky. Great white 
marble masses, fresh from the quarry and un- 
stained, set in the clear blue that stands for 
truth. See it! See it! See it! J oily , jolly, 
jolly! jolly! whistles the cardinal till all the 
sleepy world is wide awake. 
What a greeting on this auspici s date ! 

Early spring flowers bloom nowhere so pro- 
fusely as on a poet^s pages, but I propose this 
April morning to go to the meadows — to the 
part where the bluff that faces them is sheltered 
from the wind. A single spring beauty, upon 
which my eye falls, so pale that the thought of 
color belonging to it never occurs to you, it 
seems to me expresses in its name more than all 
that can be said of it, however neatly shaped 
and truly rhymed the stanzas. It is always 
something to stand in the actual presence. Af- 
terwards we can better measure the value of 
the traveller's pages; aye, and the poet's also. 
It sometimes happens that the full significance 
of a poet's line is realized. Violets make azure 
the sod until it seems a mirror reflecting the 
sky ; that is, they sometimes do, but the trouble 

143 



The Bambles of an Idler 



is, once having seen the statement made, we are 
ever expecting such a pretty sight and never 
contented with a single blossom. A better plan 
is to take up kindly with a solitary flower and 
consider what it stands for; seeing therein the 
whole of summer and the fruits of autumn, per- 
haps peering into futurity as far as the repose 
of winter. This is no labor such as only the 
philosopher is equal to; to exercise such fac- 
ulties within humbler scope is the most worthy 
purpose of an outing. Muscles can be kept lim- 
ber in a gymnasium but muscles and mind coop- 
erate only in the open air. 

'^A little child shall lead them.^^ Be led by 
a violet and you will dance through life, trip- 
ping it lightly over the roughest ground. 

I read recently that a new species of violet 
had been discovered some hundred miles to the 
north of us, but why stand astonished over the 
announcement when the blue and white and pur- 
ple bloom of the door-yard has not yet appealed 
to us as it should? It is wonderland wherever 
we happen to be ignorant, which is the usual 
condition, and a wonderful land in proportion as 
our eyes are open. Whether shut or open is 
our own affair. 

144 



Interpretations 



Ask a violet any reasonable question and it 
will give you an intelligible reply. If we stand 
amid ten thousand, we may be lost in astonish- 
ment at their numbers and forget the knowledge 
the individual blossom would have imparted. 
A violet in March or earlier, heralding the mil- 
lions that are coming is the one chosen of its 
kind to interpret for me what is their place in 
Nature. It does not tell all its story. No ob- 
ject does that. This is well. If there were not 
still one more question to be asked, a powerful 
incentive to be under the sky, instead of under a 
roof, would be wanting. The big trees of trans- 
continental regions and the trackless forests of 
the antipodal world may excite our admiration, 
but not to the extent of impatience if we are 
kept at home. Even here, where it is said the 
world is about worn out, there remains many a 
mystery. Worn out, indeed! South Jersey 
still has nearly two million acres of woodland. 
There is comfort in the thought even if we 
never see them. 

That is a pretty story of so long ago as 1696 
when Anne, a bride, just before entering her 
new home, plucked a tiny flower from the sod 

145 



The Rambles of an Idler 



and holding it np to John, said, ** Heart's ease." 
Tradition is silent as to John's reply but I do 
know that forty-three years and three monlhs 
passed before the tie was broken. Heart's ease 
meant much, then, in 1696, and now, in 1905, it 
means much to me, a descendant of these sturdy 
folk who solved the problem of life so signifi- 
cantly. No wonder; they faced a new country 
where novelty ruled and roused excitement to 
its highest healthy pitch ; when every day meant 
much and success went forward by leaps and 
bounds. 

A new country then, and an old country now. 
Four generations, 'twixt them and myself, have 
done a deal of mischief from my point of view 
— ^have wonderfully improved matters from 
others' standpoints. Now, my neighbors are 
sin^g, *'Hail! Columbia, Happy Land," while 
I murmur, '^ Hail I Columbia, Virgin Soil!" and 
think of the white woodland violet of other days 
and rejoice to know there are a few trees left 
that sheltered them and now are sheltering me. 

These early spring days provoke to a rem- 
iniscential mood. The rattle of the little frogs 
in pools and the marsh, now low, now louder, 

146 



Interpretations 



as the wind carries the sound away or bears it 
toward me, is monotonous. A single, scarcely 
varying hum is soothing rather than exciting. 
We dream rather than think, under its in- 
fluence, and the thought of those gone before is 
apt to be a controlling one: Where are they 
now? 

With eyes as eager, songht the signs of spring, 
With ears as willing, heard each note that fell 

Where ardent songsters made the valleys ring 
With lover-notes that cast such potent spell; 

Theirs the same hopes; theirs, youth's unburdened brow; 

Life's earnest purpose theirs; where are they nowf 

Alone, I linger where their busy feet 

Pressed, in life's urgent quest, the yielding sod; 
The self -same stream and leafy wood, I greet; 

No path of their's L have not often trod. 
Sunshine and shade; gaunt oak and beechen bough. 
They knew them well as I; where are they nowf 

Where are they nowf Give heed to happy song. 
To every soothing, whispering breeze attend; 

Where sunbeams woo them, hear the merry throng; 
Proclaiming blessed hope, their voices blend. 

Here in the wild wood, by the winding stream. 

Their message reaches me — so doth it seem. 

147 



The Rambles of an Idler 



There is likely to be something radically 
wrong if yon do not find yonr own thonghts 
sufficient company. To alter a familiar saying, 
converting it into sonnd sense, "one is company 
and two's a crowd/* Of conrse I mean to 
apply this only to an educating stroll. When 
the tongne is busy, the eyes are likely to take a 
rest. We may see, but only blurred images, if 
all the while we are discussing that which is 
foreign to the place. Better, when you stand 
where flowers grow, to be one with them. Let 
the bird's song make a bird of you and not 
merely a half-hearted listener. Whole-heart- 
edness is absolutely required. Then the out- 
door world is a new one, and though you may 
not have gone a dozen rods from your door- 
step, when you return it is as a traveller from 
far distant lands. 

**I love not man the less, but Nature more.'* 
An honest thought in every rambler's breast. 
Then, too, there are people and people. He 
who considers his own welfare and comfort 
must draw sundry distinctions. 

A spring poet has no rights that editors are 
bound to recognize. The spring poet takes his 

148 



Interpretations 



life in his hand as well as his manuscript when 
he sallies forth to the publisher. Conunon 
sense commends this, if the law of the land 
does not ; but editors should be held to certain 
responsibilities, such as seeking the truth and 
detecting error. Should be, but alas ! they are 
forever giving aid and comfort to ignorance. 
Newspaper ornithology is all too apt to be irre- 
trievably bad and a good deal of literary orni- 
thology is open to criticism. Writers speak 
t'^o confidently of the characteristics of one 
month, ignoring the conditions of the month 
before it. Eobins, blue-birds and song-spar- 
rows, as familiar instances, figure quite incor- 
rectly as so-called signs of spring. Theirs now 
are richer songs than in January; every note 
rounded and full, freighted to bursting with 
the joys that possess them, but the singers of 
this April day were neither absent nor mute in 
mid- winter. Declining to wade through snow- 
drifts or face the frosty wind to hear the mid- 
winter minstrelsy, it is set down in books and 
announced in newspapers that the fields are 
then forsaken by the choristers of spring. 

Certain stereotyped statements concerning 
birds appear in village weeklies and are taken 

149 



The Eambles of an Idler 



up approvingly by metropolitan dailies. These 
statements deserve place now among cabinets 
of cariosities. Our grandparents read them 
believingly, and we are so far given to ancestor- 
worship that we accept these dicta still because 
they are time-honored. I can imagine no other 
reason, for certainly they are not true. The 
blue-bird, particularly, has been persistently 
misrepresented. All winter long they kept faith 
alive in the coming of milder days. As an in- 
stance, the second after the memorable sleet 
storm of February 21, 1902, was a crystalline 
day. The world was in a glass case, cracked 
in some places and shivered in others, but stUl 
held together, like a vase that though broken 
yet retains the beauty of its outlines. The 
fierce crashing of ice-laden boughs, the pitiless 
sleet of a few hours previously had driven all 
animal life to such shelter as it could find. 
Much of such life, we know, is always fully pre- 
pared for such emergencies, but what of the 
birds? Can we say positively that, fore-feeling 
the storm, they fled? Certainly, if exposed to 
its fury, thousands must have perished. It is 
quite improbable that they rose above it and 
circled in quiet space until the fury of the tem- 

150 



Interpretations 



pest had been spent. In short, as in other fea- 
tures of bird-life, it is idle to conjecture; but 
this I do know, that thirty-six hours after the 
storm, every bird was in its place and the ec- 
static songs of our several resident species — 
blue-birds, robins, the cardinal and the song- 
sparrow — announced the approach of spring. 
It seemed a trifle ironical, amid such arctic con- 
ditions, to sing of summer, but then the birds 
and ourselves see Nature from a different 
standpoint. To accentuate this superlatively 
wintry condition, a great flock of arctic snow- 
birds glittered in the sunlight as they passed 
over, alighted, not on the ground, but among 
the top-most twigs of a maple, twittered glee- 
fully and were gone. How happened they to 
come? Was it against their will, caught by the 
gale and carried southward of their chosen 
field; or, riding merrily on the back of the 
storm, did curiosity overcome discretion? How 
easy to ask questions ! 



151 



CHAPTER THREE 

PBEIPATBTIC MEDITATIONS 

I can see no differences between twenty-two 
and sixty-two, but alas! I can feel them. As 
of old, I am all eagerness, these early summer 
days, to rush out of doors, as the sun rises, and 
I invariably walk out rather deliberately. I 
can hear the birds, as I did in years gone by, 
but I cannot follow them through brake and 
brier. If there is no bridge over the wide 
ditch, I must stay on this side of it. 

Somewhere among the books, but as hard to 
locate as a derelict at sea, is an essay on the art 
of growing old gracefully. I remember it by 
title only. Probably it teemed with excellent 
advice, but I cannot see how any one can grow 
old good-naturedly. Growing old is dying by 
inches, and how one can smile over loss of agil- 
ity is beyond my comprehension. When I can- 
not leap over a narrow ditch, I do not exclaim, 
**What a pretty brook!'* but mutter something 

152 



Peripatetic Meditations 



like * ' Confound you ! ' ' By so doing I feel that 
I defend my dignity. 

But if I cannot run as I used to, I can walk, 
and, stumping away with a stout staff, get over 
enough ground to gather food for thought. 
Consolation here, and age needs lots of it. 

What can be more delightful than to have an 
outburst of enthusiasm on your part met with 
freezing indifference by your audience? To 
see **who cares? *' written so plainly on every 
countenance that each becomes a '* speaking'* 
one is, I say, delightful. Not at first, for the 
effect is quite the opposite, but a moment later 
when the reaction sets in and you learn, never 
to forget, that no one can have an audience 
equal to himself. 

Poor Solitude ! you have been much maligned. 
Here I am, quite alone, in the old woods and 
yet seldom in a city's streets have I been in 
more of a crowd. I am equal to listening to 
all I have to say and to all that Nature has to 
say to me. That surely is sufficient. More 
would prove "wasteful and ridiculous excess." 

We forget too readily. This is the third day 
of the fifth month and the seventy-first since 

153 



The Rambles of an Idler 



that memorable sleet storm which dealt destruc- 
tion with such an unsparing hand. In our 
enthusiasm over May-day blossom and the 
thrushes song at sunrise, we overlook the for- 
lorn, leafless limbs of many a noble tree and 
note nothing of Nature *s methods of restora- 
tion. 

Little as we might have expected it, Nature 
is already beneficently busy. Branches that 
were hurled to the frozen ground are now partly 
buried in the turf and trailing vines are cover- 
ing them. The ugly scars will be hidden and 
the world all green again. Close study of Na- 
ture's methods may lead us to better some of 
our own. She is a safer guide than those per- 
verse people who have turned their backs upon 
her. But rejoice as we may, that the ruin 
caused by the storm is being made good, the 
doud cannot be ignored because of its silver 
lining. The stately crown of oak and beech 
and elm is torn and tattered now. The battle 
raged fiercely, and little escaped its fury. The 
evidence of conflict is still everywhere. Were 
I young, I might count the years and mark the 
gradual restoration of these familiar trees. As 
it is, the trees I have known I shall never know 

154 



Peripatetic Meditations 



again. Wrecks and ruins that delight the poet 
and novelist have no proper place from my 
poiat of view. They blur the landscape; are 
blots on the fair face of Nature. They teach 
us much valuable truth, I am told, but I do not 
feel the need of it as yet. These are merry 
May days, not pitiless December ones, weighted 
with wise saws; and living myself, I am in love 
with life. 

But when these woods are dark, what then? 

Darkness has its disadvantages, it is true, 
but it is the same world whether bathed in light 
or wrapped in gloom. We really make the dif- 
ference that we find and wrongly ascribe it to 
one of Nature *s unamiable moods. Strike a 
match and not a tree will be found walking 
away nor the grass disappearing. Star-light is 
not sun-light, I admit, but the difference is in 
degree and not in kind. There is danger in 
darkness, but this is minimized by the exercise 
of care. It is no such hardship as people think 
to feel our way instead of forging straight 
ahead as we do during the day. If we felt our 
way, when we can see as well as feel, it would 
often be better for us. Light makes us over- 
confident at times and we grow impatient over 

155 



The Eambles of an Idler 



the very suggestion of caution. If the high- 
mightiness of the average man were not shocked 
occasionally, sanity would become as rare as 
visible comets. 

Certainly in some and possibly in all locali- 
ties, there is one danger in darkness; that of 
meeting a man. It is an indisputable fact that 
man, the highest order of animal, is sometimes 
the lowest, and a blot upon Creation's face. 
Escaping, then, the machinations of some man 
gone wrong, these woods — all woods, indeed — 
though the night be dark as Erebus, are not 
without their charm. 

The toad has been accounted a philosopher 
and it is much more that than a noodle. It is 
neither ugly nor venomous, as has been writ, 
and the precious jewel in its head is wit. When 
men have the patience to study the despised 
things on earth they lose a goodly portion of 
their self-conceit. If this poor batrachian had 
been better understood in other days it would 
not now have to bear the unjust burden of orig- 
inating the despicable word *' toady.'* The 
toad itself toadies to nothing. It is as inde- 
pendent as a black snake, and if not as swift, as 

156 



Peripatetic Meditations 



gracefiil, as pitiless, it holds itself as no less 
an honorable denizen of the earth. 

That toads are philosophical is evidenced by 
their selecting homes and remaining therein 
and not leading a vagabond existence. Diog- 
enes in his tub was not more contented than are 
toads in their habitations, from which they hop, 
upon occasion, and being methodical when 
abroad, they demonstrate their claim to com- 
mon sense. 

I hear the toads now, though it is early in the 
day, as they are often heard at night, when they 
do not, I maintain, make night hideous. We, 
not the toads, are out of tune, so far as Nature 
is concerned, to think amiss when they are 
ringing the praises of the darkened world. The 
toad sees at night that to which we should not 
be blind. The last glimmer of light faded from 
the west and how much taller and more stately 
is every tree, now that it is dimly outlined on 
the blue-black sky. The twinkling stars seen 
through the branches are the trees' fiery fruits, 
Black trees, black leaves, and glowing fiery 
fruit. This is something worth a long walk at 
night. 

Making no mention of the tiresome owls, 
157 



The Bambles of an Idler 



there are other birds awake to which it matters 
little what is the hour by the clock. Light or 
dark, they are equally wide awake and that 
weird Quokl we hear in the "wee sma' hours*' 
is the cry of one sueh bird, the night heron. 
They are abundant here and so too is the little 
green, the great blue, and both the greater and 
less bittern. It is well nigh useless to peer into 
the sky when we hear the strange cries they 
utter. Unless they cross the face of the full 
moon, you will almost never see them. Such, 
at least, has been my experience. Quokl Quokl 
and the sound, the darkness, the momentary 
silence following the fading out of the land- 
marks, all these make for us a new world, but 
not one to be dreaded. 

I cannot account for that disposition in man 
to invest what they call *' strange'* sounds with 
all manner of uncanny attributes. A heron is 
as harmless as a caged canary, and yet because 
its cry, Quok, is harsh, guttural, startling, a 
sound that commands attention immediately, 
those who hear it for the first time imagine end- 
less absurdities, and if they never believed in 
ghosts before, lean to a belief in that direction 
now. Call the cry of the heron all the ugly 

158 



Peripatetic Meditations 



names yon choose, it is really mnsic. It aptly 
tells the story of the night. It belongs to dark- 
ness, to the shadowy side of Nature, jnst as the 
robin's whistle heralds the rising sun. 

Why do they wander throughout all the 
night ? Turning night into day for a given pur- 
pose is readily understood among ourselves. It 
is a necessity due to the demands of business, 
a strictly utilitarian condition. Is wandering 
'twixt the clouds and tree-tops a matter of ne- 
cessity or choice? The latter, from my point 
of view. Before midnight, every heron has 
sumptuously dined and the later wandering 
must needs be a grateful relaxation from long 
standing in the marshes. I have seen scores of 
herons of several species, crossing and re-cross- 
ing the meadows and at times circling above 
them, as late as two A. M. There seemed no 
necessity for so doing, so we put it down as a 
matter of choice. 

Perhaps when our air-ships are common as 
wagons, we too may wander over the earth and 
shout down to less favored mortals who are 
still toiling on the globe's surface, or trying to 
drown their sorrow in sleep. Though often 
abroad by day, these birds are well called night- 

159 



The Rambles of an Idler 



herons. So too are the others of their famUy. 
Whether green, blue, white or mottled brown, 
they are all given to nocturnal sport, noisy and 
demonstrative. 

There is much preaching throughout the land, 
but the safest school for good manners, good 
morals and a common-sense view of the world 
we live in is out-of-doors. Compared with the 
conditions civilization has brought about, the 
out-door world never suffers. Candor, a word 
merely with men, is the keynote of every wild 
creature, however humble, that we meet, and 
this is refreshing, enough so, it seems to me, fo 
take us oftener into the woods. 

The tirade against dirt so constantly heard 
is probably the most tiresome item of the stock 
in trade of housekeepers' communications. 
Poor dirt! Pulverized rock, tried by frost, 
purified by fire, washed by the rain and dried 
by the innocent sunshine, and yet more roundly 
abused than anything else in Nature. Thank 
Goodness, I love the dirt! Love to walk on it, 
to play in it; yes, to burrow waist-deep in it 
and, emerging into the light of day, feel that I 

160 



Peripatetic Meditations 



am not an unfit object for the blessed sun to see. 
Better still, I am duly thankful that I am com^ 
paratively free from the restraints of those 
habitations where a speck of dirt is held in as 
great horror as a crime. Some superlatively 
particular people, did they know it, are super- 
latively stupid. Wisdom does not brighten 
their eyes, as lightning plays upon the moun- 
tain's brow. Well, I had rather have the marks 
of my collie's muddy paws upon me than the 
reddening of squeezed fingers following the 
grip of senseless formality. Dust that smarts 
the eyes, tickles the nostrils and soils the pages 
of our treasured books is an abomination, but 
such **dirt'' is far removed from the honest 
earth into which I love to delve and which the 
while tells a truthful and most fascinating tale. 

It threatens to rain. Just what threatens is 
not a matter of importance. **If is a con- 
venient intangibility upon which we can hang 
all sorts of theoretical conditions. What is of 
importance is the fact that the sky is overcast, 
and the sunlight so dinmied there are no shad- 
ows. Never was better evidence adduced that 
May days can be delightful, yet without direct 

161 



The Rambles of an Idler 



sunlight. It is a dark day bnt not a dismal one. 
There is mneh in Nature that defies language. 
A correct description is alike beyond the mathe- 
matician and the poet An approadi to it is 
all one can accomplish. The writer can bnt 
outline ; the reader mnst fill in for himself. As 
an instance, the air we breathe, when it threat- 
ens to rain, is not just the same as in ordinary 
weather. It is equally acceptable to the Imigs 
bnt we appreciate a difference while inhaling 
it. We can speak of electricity, ozone, o:5ygen, 
but we must breathe that subtle something then 
abroad to know what it all means. At such a 
time, too, there is not so bright a light as when 
the sun shines, yet the horizon is more distinct 
and intervening objects stand out as not be- 
fore. An apparent contradiction, so far as 
mere words go, but it is true, nevertheless. 
No bird sings more loudly than when the sun 
shines, yet we can hear each note, just before 
the rain, more distinctly than in fair weather. 
Words, mere words, again 1 The ring of every 
bird's note, the odor of every blossom, the effect 
on the eye of the peculiar light; in brief, the 
comprehensive impression of all surrounding 
us laughs at language. 

162 



Peripatetic Meditations 



Nature deals directly with us and some of her 
gifts are beyond human power to transmit. No 
page can be printed which can do more than 
urge the reader to seek for himself. Take the 
world only on hearsay and you are a stranger 
in it for the term of your natural life. 

I do not know when the mill-pond was estab- 
lished. It was certainly as long ago as the 
closing decade of the eighteenth century. It is 
suflScient for my purpose that it has been a pond 
since I first passed this way, and that was long 
before I was allowed to come alone. Every 
man has his individual **long ago*' when the 
world meant so much that failed us as the years 
rolled by. A country mill-pond, a boy fishing, 
sunshine, song-birds, i>erhaps a boat — a pic- 
ture, this, of an Elysian field that age can see 
only when blinded to the facts. But this is a 
May day. Fit for meditation and not for mel- 
ancholy. The latter, if it shows itself at such 
a time, is a mis-fit. May melancholy ! As well 
speak of a righteous sinner! 

Here I am, but not as I have often been be- 
fore, walking on the dry bed of the old mill- 
pond. The past is not always so hopelessly 

163 



The Rambles of an Idler 



irrecoverable as we think. The valley that now 
is is the valley that once was, the one Nature 
fashioned with sloping bank, level meadow, a 
bit of resisting day capped with button-bushes, 
and a spring brook, so reckless it did not look 
where it was going and faced all the points of 
the compass before settling upon some one of 
them. Happy brook, surely, for in all these 
years it was hidden it lost not the secret of its 
youth and sparkles to-day as if no shadow had 
ever fallen upon it. A happy brook with white 
pebbles strewn throughout its way and the sil- 
very minnow and checkered darter flashing in 
the ripple as they did when my forbears, as lit- 
tle boys and girls, played hereabout. 

Only the garrets of our oldest houses retain 
a colonial atmosphere nowadays, but I found it 
here this morning, out of doors, in a winding, 
narrow valley, that has been drowned a century 
and more, but with the breath of life again in its 
lungs, and trembling with the same exuberance 
of joy as it did before man marred what Na- 
ture made. Fresh green leaves, the incompar- 
able yellow-green of early May; warblers by 
scores that dropped in upon the scene before 
the sun rose, the exultant rose-breast and the 

164 



Peripatetic Meditations 



reminiscent thrush, rollicking cat-bird and 
ghostly chat. Then too, the bluet and violet, 
star of Bethlehem and dandelion, purple lung- 
wort and pink azalea ; color, color everywhere ! 
Music, color and Time turned back to the youth- 
ful years of the lonely rambler. A man turned 
boy and in a colonial setting. Not my poor self, 
merely, in the dry bed of a departed mill-pond. 

No aquatic plants have raised their expectant 
heads above the sun-baked mud and turned back 
to Mother Earth, wondering what had hap- 
pened. At least, I could find no evidence of 
this, but in their stead, germinated seeds carried 
hither by the March winds and April gales. 
These are not vigorous growths, but relieve, the 
monotony of barren, brown ground, and in time 
would flourish. Nature soon obliterates all 
traces of man's interference when she has a free 
hand, but the new dam and re-erected mill will 
be finished ere long and then the water lily and 
spatter-dock, pickerel weed and milfoil will 
reign supreme. 

It is the meadow now, however, not only of 
early Colonial days but of the Indian, and I have 
been wondering if any traces of their handiwork 
still remain. My search therefor was fruit- 

165 



The Eambles of an Idler 



less. It requires but a tHn film of mud to con- 
ceal archaeological prizes effectually, so my fail- 
ure was but negative evidence; all of which 
, should be remembered and unfortunate conclu- 
sions would be avoided. What I did find was a 
pewter button. It might have belonged to the 
coat of the first miller. It is not always safe to 
say, even to one's self, *'it might have been.*' 
Innocent words in themselves, but how they can 
play hob with the facts ! They can distort our 
mental visions until the world turns upside down 
and we never suspect how we are fooled. When 
you find pewter buttons label them as such and 
until you find the coat from which they came, do 
not venture to conmient. Excellent advice ; but 
how prosy becomes the day's walk when you 
cannot indulge your imagination. Do not but- 
tons prove that there were coats, just as the 
foot-print before me proves a man has recently 
passed by? All my life a snapper up of uncon- 
sidered trifles, I venture to speak with a trifle of 
confidence. There is, however, one really safe 
line of thought when discarded odds and ends 
are gathered up. Buttons, for instance, are like 
Indian flint arrow-points, almost meaningless of 
themselves. We can think of a coat when we 

166 



Peripatetic Meditations 



find a button and so too of an arrow when we 
find its heady and just as the arrow indicates a 
bow and this in turn a man to use it, so the but- 
ton leads to the coat and a man to wear it. So 
far safely; but this pleasant May sunsMne 
makes me venturesome and I go a step farther 
and say to myself, perhaps this button belonged 
to the coat of the man who built the mill. When 
we say *^ perhaps,'' we are always safe. The 
word is a breastwork through which no critic 
can shoot. At all events, there was a miller, once 
upon a time — blessed words these, once upon a 
time — and tradition has it, he was a man of 
many parts ; — ^miller, sawyer, cabinet-maker and 
cordwainer. His grandson, whom I remember, 
was a sawyer only and all his talk was of tim- 
ber. He bore much resemblance to a gnarly oak 
and his words crackled like dead leaves in win- 
ter. If his faults were many, he had a few vir- 
tues and these, like oaks among brambles, over- 
shadowed the undergrowth of his make-up. He 
was proud of his grandfather and in justifica- 
tion of his own inferiority, asserted that the 
world had ^* tamed down" since the old man's 
day, and so had he. 
Soon, as I said, there is to be a new mill-pond, 
167 



The Rambles of an Idler 



a new dam, a new mill, and all I can hope for is 
that the falling water will sing the old song that 
helped to while away many a summer afternoon. 
The same song, that nothing can improve, over 
and over, high and low, gentle and fierce, sooth- 
ing in summer, pitilessly harsh in winter and, 
though for more than a century it has kept si- 
lence at arm^s length, never wearisome. A tonic 
sound, like the wholesouled whistle of a cardinal 
grosbeak, which restores what is lost, which 
rebuilds what has fallen. 

The shadows lengthen as I wander on. The 
light fades from beneath the cedars, and the 
thrush, moved by the stillness of the sunset 
hour, sings his marvellous song. One by one 
the glittering stars appear. Another of these 
blessed May days, passed into history. 

If we could see ourselves as seen by others, 
would we do so? Is not opinion of self perched 
upon so high a pinnacle that it overlooks all else 
in the universe t Men will cease to talk about 
themselves only when the Heavens fall. They 
do not deal in facts so much as their personal 
relation thereto, and it is the former only that 
concerns the average listener. There are ex- 

168 



Peripatetic Meditations 



captions, and these prove the rule perhaps, but 
more effectively demonstrate that all conld free 
themselves of the pernicious tendency, if they 
would. I listened once to a thrilling narration 
of the upsetting of a boat and what followed, 
and did not suspect that the narrator was the 
hero of the story. I learned that later, by acci- 
dent. 

It may be merciful that those who are lack- 
ing do not suspect their limitations. He is 
really a wise man, who, being a fool, knows it, 
and a brave man, if he freely admits it ; other- 
wise, he is a fool indeed. 

*^If this were sound reasoning, all would turn 
to suicide and the race disappear'*— -is the com- 
ment of one who is not afar off. 

Again, perhaps ; but if people would stick to 
facts and not their relation thereto, I still main- 
tain, the world would be happier. 

Nature loves the number, three. She trini- 
tates in more ways than one. Morning, noon 
and night. It rains for three days. It is hot, 
hotter, hottest in summer and cold^ colder, cold- 
est in wiuter. The seasons each are three 
months long and with the wild strawberry, it is 

169 



The Rambles of an Idler 



three weeks *twixt blossom and fruit. Wild 
strawberries ! A poem in two words that no ex- 
ploitation of stanzas could improve. A little 
prose, however, may do no harm, 

I know a bank whereon this berry grows and 
with it purple crane's bill, wind-flowers, butter- 
cups and bluets. To-day, too, the white sepals 
of the dog-wood still show and not all of the 
pink azalea has faded. Jack-in-the-pulpit holds 
forth to the oven-bird scratching among dead 
leaves and red-starts flash among the old oaks' 
branches above me. I rested for a time on a 
cushion of rich green moss and plucked red ber- 
ries ; plucked and ate, while I heard the strain- 
ing snorts of freight engines, the rumble of traf- 
fic on the high-way, the steady hum of the town 
borne hither by the breeze. The world is very 
busy and let us hope, happy; happy as I was 
there, alone with the trees, flowers, birds and 
fruit; as happy with those few berries as the 
man of business clutching the profits of hard- 
driven bargains. The strawberry does not 
ripen that I may eat, but Nature was in a gen- 
erous mood to-day, and had enough for her pur- 
poses and mine. I could eat and be merry, with 
a clear conscience. 

170 



Peripatetic Meditations 



Even when May has to face clouds, fog, driz- 
zle or beating rain, her gladness shows through 
her tears and the rambler laughs at her plight 
more than he sympathizes with her woe. If all 
that follow in her train are not disturbed, why 
should we be cast down? The chilly east wind 
might have been more considerate and staid on 
the ocean, I felt, at first; but the birds seemed 
not to mind it and sang as usual. Swallows, that 
yesterday filled with life the empty space above, 
now gathered on the wires of the electric rail- 
way; but they twittered contentedly accepting 
the chill day with becoming cheerfulness. One 
good thing happened. The north-bound war- 
blers were induced to stop over for a time, and 
when I saw to-day the fire-fronted Blackbur- 
nian, the matter of foul weather was absolutely 
forgotten. 

Their song was an earnest invitation to re- 
main afield. See, see, see, seel I did see a 
great deal for a dreary day. Saw that wild life 
took things philosophically. The rain was 
needed and perhaps they knew it. Psychology : 
says otherwise and limits animal intelligence to 
mere rudiments. Perhaps. I should like to 
have birds' eyes in my head for half a day and 

171 



The Rambles of an Idler 



see the world as they do. There were warblers 
everywhere and if the slaughter of insects bore 
proportion to their activity, the ranks of flies 
and larvae were surely much depleted. As so 
often happens, their united voices reached to the 
dignity of song. Few species will remain. In 
June, the redstart, summer warbler, Maryland 
yellow-throat and black and white creeper will 
^ all that one is likely to see in a day^s ramble, 
but they are sufficient to brighten any outlook. 
The oven-bird, too, will be here, but it seems 
more like a little thrush. One word about its 
song. It was said some years ago that the notes 
of this bird were best represented by the word 
*^ teacher,'' uttered five times with a steadily 
rising inflection. This assertion implies that 
the accent is on the first syllable, and that the 
sound of E is prominent, followed by the roll of 
an R. Possibly so in the northern woods, but I 
have been listening to one of these birds for sev- 
eral days, as I have listened to others for forty 
years past, watching it closely and taking my 
observations early and late, in clear weather 
and when the air was laden with moisture, and 
can say confidently that the word ** teacher'* 
bears no resemblance whatever to the oven- 

172 



Peripatetic Meditations 



bird's song. The notes of the Jersey bird are 
distinctly sibilant, the accent very marked aad 
invariably on the second syllable, and the two 
words ^* it is,'' four times expressed, each time 
with added emphasis, are accurately descrip- 
tive. The bird might well be called the Insist- 
ent Accentor. 

As we watch this common bird of the woods, 
seeing it under all circumstances, the impres- 
sion arises that it is a creature of strong convic- 
tions and an earnest upholder of squatter sover- 
eignty rights. It is self-reliant and moves with 
the dignity of a lord of the manor. Its ^ ' song' ' 
is not akin to the warble of a blue-bird or the 
clarion call of an oriole, but suggests to man, at 
least, a distinctly positive expression of some 
conclusion reached; an insistence that some- 
thing is. 

All other birds silent for the moment, the 
dead leaves no longer crackling under our feet, 
we pause for an instant, thinking we have seen 
a movement of an object on a dead limb near by. 
We wait and watch. Presently, a little bunch 
of brown feathers trips along the branch, takes 
on more definite shape, stops a moment as ff 
suspicious of us, regains its confidence, recalls 

173 



The Bambles of an Idler 



its thou^t of a moment ago and then the still 
woods ring with an emphatic ''It is, It is. It is, 
IT IS!" 

Fiddle-heads are fuzzy, bright brown and 
shapely as a bishc^'s crosier; — some without 
the crook and green. In every stage of ad- 
vancement toward completion and the reason is 
evident A matter wholly of the temperature 
of earth and air; for I find many a nook where 
it stays cold as charity all through the month, 
and yet the fern is plucky enough to hold on and 
in June will make the spot luxuriant as a trop- 
ical jungle. Where ferns flourish, the world is 
pretty enough for the most exacting creature, — 
fit for humming birds and the summer warbler; 
yet to-day a stolid rough-backed terrapin crept 
over the mud and seemingly paid no heed to the 
beautiful foliage waving gracefully over him. 
It was, from a human standpoint, an example of 
the sublime and the ridiculous. Turtles are 
well enough in their way, but sometimes they 
may be in the way. This rough-back crawled to 
a higher point and surveyed the world from a 
hillock of dry sand. It surely never saw a fairer 
landscape, but chelonian utility was perhaps its 

174 



Peripatetic Meditations 



only thought. It evidently, failed to find things 
as it wished, so turned about and hid itself in 
the soft mud. I have known people to play tur- 
tle in this fashion. Although a May day, the 
air is too cool, the sky too cloudy, the breeze too 
fresh, and so after a sniff from their doorway, 
Ihey turn about and wallow in the dust and 
stuflSness of their houses. As if May days 
were every days and life without end. 

Whichever way I turn I find au Indian has 
preceded me. Try as I may, I can leave no en- 
during trace, and yet little the Indian did that 
there is not a record of remaining. It is easy 
to fill my pockets with relics of these almost for- 
gotten people, but not so readily can I picture 
them as they were. The world then was Na- 
ture's world and they were Nature's people. 
They wrought their commonest utensils in 
stone; we, in wood. They lived a purposeful 
life — to do otherwise was to court death ; we too 
often lead a meaningless one. Else, why have 
coined the word ^* artificial?" Here are three 
arrow-points, one each of jaspar, quartz and 
slate, but the shafts have perished with the bow, 
and the archer's bones are dust. How many of 

175 



The Rambles of an Idler 



us leave so much as an arrow-point behind! I 
have nothing about me as imperishable as these 
dexterously chipped stones. What a joy it 
would be to put on record an imperishable 
thought 1 

As I stoop to pick from the newly ploughed 
soil another arrowpoint, fancy gains the mas- 
tery and the field disappears. The forest is re- 
stored; deer lurk in its shadows and the hun- 
ter's moccasined feet silently press the dead 
leaves where I would have noisily trod. Now, if 
I chance upon a mouse or see a squirrel on yon- 
der fence, I am fortunate. The thoughts that 
such a change has wrought, are vexing. A 
cloud appears in the blue sky. 

We are too apt to be discontented and grow 
morose even, if we dwell too much upon the ir- 
revocable past. Had it been the climax of the 
world's purpose, it would have remained so. 
Evolution stopped with the appearance of man, 
but the Indian is only a phase of human pro- 
gress. The aim of the universe is towards still 
better things and we are better employed with 
the present than forever brooding over the past. 
Some people speak of the **good" old times as 
if the present were irretrievably bad. Well 

176 



Peripatetic Meditations 



enough to give a passing thought to the Indian 
that was, but not such fixed attention that the 
present is lost sight of. Now, with what is, is 
none too trifling for our strength. Let us solve 
the problem. set before us as did the Indian that 
which confronted him in past ages. The har- 
vest that I yearly gather from this one-time 
home of another race is better for me than the 
venison and berries that were cooked over the 
coals which still blacken the ground where I 
stand. It is enough to know that the Indian 
once possessed the land and that now I have 
taken his place. Nature expects other results 
from me. What is expected? That I would 
know. When the Indian I meet in the realm of 
shades, it will be time enough to compare notes. 

It is a pleasing thought that water can run 
rapidly, yet without noise ; swift, sure and silent. 
Not so with ourselves. There is a great bustle 
attending our least efforts. We are apt to com- 
mand attention more by the noise we make than 
the good we effect. 

Across the ploughed field is a long line of 
button-bushes and these border a lively little 
oreek. Where I reached it, the stream has 

177 



The Rambles of an Idler 



broadened to a shallow pond, its bed checkered 
with squares of white sand and green, waving 
milfoil, and a narrow channel divides the space, 
which looks like a black hand. It hides effec- 
tually all it contains. The contrast between the 
bare sandy spots and those covered with vegeta- 
tion is very marked. In the former are several 
beautiful banded sunfish that are as conspic- 
uous, with their ebony and silver markings, as 
many of the tropical fish. With fins somewhat 
depressed, they move leisurely about but, spying 
prey, at once they hold themselves erect and 
dart at objects which I cannot detect. I can 
judge of what they are doing only by their ac- 
tions and this is usually a safe thing to do. 
People do not run unless in a hurry, nor are they 
given to flinging their fists into the face of the 
wind; so these sunfish dart about when there is 
something to overtake and float lazily when 
there is nothing else to do. We can see our- 
selves in any school of fish. It is for some pur- 
poses an excellent school to go to before the day 
of our enslavement to self-conceit arrives. 

With these black and silvery-sided ones are 
others, somewhat larger, rich brown in color and 
thickly spotted with richest, royal purple. 

178 



Peripatetic Meditations 



They too make a fine show when they turn a lit- 
tle to one side or the other, but if directly be- 
neath us, they are, like all fishes, but dark 
streaks in the water. Evidently their color was 
not meant to please the idle rambler that hap- 
pens this way. In all probability the world was 
far more beautiful before man saw it, than it 
has been since. Man came upon the scene after 
everything was old and much was ruined. He 
is now a good deal like the creator of a museum 
of archaeology, a caretaker of the antiques time 
has spared to us. If these pretty fish are not 
pleased, looking at each other, why such a dis- 
play of color f These are long days but not long 
enough for those who begin asking questions. 
The sunlight reaching to the white sand is at- 
tractive to the fish, and they gather about it, 
but they are never incautious. The shadow of 
my broad-rinuned hat, as I moved, fell upon 
them and when I looked again, not a fish was to 
be seen. Probably they had the thought of a 
heron or a king-fisher and took no chances. 
They indulged no curiosity to-day, surely, but 
fled from the vaguest hint of danger. 

Not all sununer's leafy bowers are on dry 
land. Submerged plant-life luxjiriates here, 

179 



The Bambles of an Idler 



graceful beyond description. Only our ferns 
are comparable to it. Fishes have their forests 
but to explore them is unduly adventurous. I 
never was equal to diving. Not only adven- 
turous but dangerous. Savage creatures lurk 
in the darkest recesses of these rank aquatic 
growths. The snapping turtle, for example. 

In place of attempting a personal exploration, 
I sent a stout stick as my representative — ^a 
crooked one, perhaps, more appropriate — ^into 
the milfoil, bladder-wort and yellow pond-lily, 
the leaves of which last named plaut are very 
beautiful when submerged and quickly turn to 
green slime when removed from the water. 
The steady current soon set the disturbed plants 
aright, but the hidden fishes were more seriously 
disturbed. Out skurried many of them and be- 
sides the sun-fish, there came a full-grown, grim, 
black pirate perch. Evidently disliking the 
light of day, it moved about petulantly and soon 
found shelter under a root that projected from 
the sand. There, when quiet was restored, it 
held itself in one position by the slightest pos- 
sible fin movement. Such of these fishes as I 
have kept in an aquarium were distinctly noc- 
turnal in habit, during the day remaining in the 

180 



Peripatetic Meditations 



darkest corners or tinder a stone arch in the 
tank. When, occasionally, I completely shut 
out the light, they became active immediately 
and searched for food. Suddenly letting in the 
light again, they quickly returned to their posts. 
This simple experiment, always with the same 
result, led me to conclude that pirate perches 
are nocturnal. That was long ago and for 
years I have not seen one of these fishes. That 
which I routed from the weeds to-day, told the 
same story. They are carnivorous and glut- 
tons, even for fishes. I have often known them 
to swallow a minnow, head and shoulders, and 
patiently await the process of digestion before 
clearing their jaws of the projecting body of 
their victim. I saw a pirate perch, in an 
aquarium, take secure hold of an angle-worm, 
and while two or more inches of the body were 
lashing wildly about the ** pirate's'' head, the 
fish chased a small minnow until it cornered it. 
Of course it escaped, but not quite unscathed. 
The ** pirate's" one idea is a full stomach, that 
is, if fish have ideas, as we ordinarily use the 
word. It is an open question. Certainly some 
fishes seem to have other means of enjoyment. 
Many of them play, if ever a kitten does. 

181 



The Rambles of an Idler 



The house-wrens are now here and nest-build- 
ing is over. There are no sticks to be carried 
and no more quarreling over their availability. 
Life has become one endless round of song, 
varied by lively chatter and spiced with an oc- 
casional dash of acrimonious debate. When the 
pair came — ^I presume they are the same birds — 
to the cozy corner in my north-side porch, they 
found the English sparrows in possession. That 
was April 23d. Of course there was a fight. 
Nothing like argument, but at once a deal of 
vituperation, and, on the wrens* part, determi- 
nation that became desperation. Possession is 
nine points of the law, and this was the spar- 
rows'. I was forced to come to the wrens* aid. 
This I did by closing the entrance to the nesting- 
place and making a new and smaller one. The 
sparrows were now at a disadvantage, and held 
out for three days only, standing guard, and 
preventing the wrens going where they could 
not go. Then they gave up. What appeared a 
purposeless labor on the part of the wrens was 
that they removed twig by twig all that the spar- 
rows had gathered to complete a nest, and then, 
having cleaned house, which proved no very 
easy matter to them, they took back about as 

182 



Peripatetic Meditations 



much material and some of it, I know, was that 
which they had removed. 

As I have sometimes seen, I did not, in this 
case, note the wrens and sparrows actually 
come to blows. It was a war of words and no one 
could have heard it and not have been convinced 
that birds' vocal powers have a wider range 
than the utterance of musical sounds. If it is 
possible to interpret what we hear and see in 
other creatures than ourselves, then there was 
talking as well as expletive, to and fro, 'twixt 
wren and sparrow. 

A stormy day, at last, an indoor day, and I 
have opened a book for the first time in a month. 
I soon tired of it. My recollections of recent 
out-door rambles were too vivid and the con- 
trast Hwixt book and memory too great and to 
the former's disadvantage. Why not be enter- 
tained with indoor thoughts of our own think- 
ing? 

In modem houses we are too far from the 
storm. We may not wish to feel it, but I pro- 
test against shutting out all sight and sound of 
it. The shelter of an open shed is my ideal of 
a refuge. I love to hear the rain upon the roof. 

183 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Though every drop was big and round, and 
there were millions of them, a satisfied wood 
peewee perched on a poorly protected twig and 
caught many a draggled insect that ventured 
abroad. What a fitting song was that of the 
bird, blending so admirably with the sighing of 
the wind and the creaking of the elm-tree 
branches. Pee-ah-wee! Pee-ah! Perhaps the 
bird found pleasure in his melancholy; I have 
known people to do so. I found mine in antici- 
pating the general refreshing of Nature, re- 
membering what a rain means after weeks of 
dry weather. Much will happen in a single 
night, after the storm passes. Many a plant 
will wait for moisture, if it waits all summer. I 
shall look for green growths confidently where 
now it is but bare sand. Every drop of this 
blessed rain is a fairy's wand and has illimita- 
ble transmuting power. If one's thought of 
rain is only to keep out of it, much is lost. It is 
not one of Nature's holidays and the world idle, 
and the rambler is unwise who makes a holiday 
of it and hides behind a door. Eainy day ram- 
bles are among our choicest experiences, but it 
takes a man of some courage to face a driving 
northeaster. 

184 



Peripatetic Meditations 



Men of common sense have a hard time of it 
in this world, the earth is so full of people 
lacking it; hnt this is not the only vexations 
condition that is met. Before the perversity of 
inanimate objects that of the semi-idiot pales 
to ntter insignificance. I am not to be convinced 
by the mere telling that a hammer does not dis- 
criminate between my fingers and a nail and 
hits the former maliciously and lets the naiPs 
head go unscathed. . Madam's pin cushion is 
peculiar and pins and needless make it a point 
to point outwardly and finger ends are notor- 
iously blind. Buttons and button holes, collars 
and collar buttons, I know, and hooks and eyes, 
I am told, are perpetually at odds, and when 
their differences are set at naught by man or 
woman, they vent their spite by parting com- 
pany when their close association is most de- 
sired. Who has not known the recalcitrant stud 
which rolls to that precise point where it knows 
the human heel will be most impatiently plant- 
ed? Never the living creature breathed that 
could not be provoking upon occasion, but how 
trivial, after all, is its perversity when com- 
pared with such familiar objects as chairs 
where you least expect them and half -opened 

185 



The Rambles of an Idler 



doors in darkened rooms and ill-placed bric-a 
brae! 

'*I didn't know it was there I** exclaimed a 
friend, recently, as he sent a bit of glassware to 
the floor; '^why didn't it get out of my way?" 
Sure enough, why didn't it! If crystals be 
alive, as it is said, why not cut-glass and egg- 
shell china and all the fragile tribe of art pro- 
duction! It is an old way of thinking which 
should be discarded, — ^that the fault when acci- 
dent occurs is all our own. There is nothing we 
prize that is really not our enemy and forever 
on the alert to take advantage of us. With what 
a joyful splash goes the extra drop of ink to 
mar the paper when timidity attempts a love 
letter. It is enough to make one suspicious. That 
drop of ink was as malicious as it was black. 
Neither youth nor pen had any control over it. 
It leapt into mischief in spite of them. There 
may be much that is illogical, but nothing truly 
remarkable in idolatry. The mind in Nature's 
children, not weighted down with learning, sees 
with keener vision than is true of ourselves and 
the foxy animation of inanimateness is very 
evident to them. 

186 



Peripatetic Meditations 



What, now, of out-of-doors f Is there nothing 
but serenity under the bright blue sky? Let us 
see. I hold no tree is so happy as that with 
the stump of a dead branch projecting where 
it is surest to be in the way. He who loves to 
climb well knows how often it happens that de- 
scending from a tree-top, we give an eager 
jump at last, glad to reach the ground. We 
leap into space — ^and halt there. With what 
solid satisfaction that stump, all innocetice in 
appearance, stops us in mid-air, and we dangle 
until some important portion of an important 
garment yields and we find ourselves sprawling 
on the ground, released, it is true, but oh, so 
ragged! 

It is not conducive to good humor,* when ang- 
ling and reasonable anticipation is at its height, 
to be teased by hope-inspiring nibbles, and then 
apparently rewarded by a vigorous tug at the 
line, to haul in exultantly, hand over hand, and 
as the fish appears, a splendid catch — to have 
the line break. How very suddenly the green 
world turns blue. 

Whether cotton, hemp or silk, that line was 
once alive; product of plant or worm, it matters 

187 



The Rambles of an Idler 



not Accidents are too common to be explained 
as accidents. It is more rational to conclude 
that the world is so full of life that it perme- 
ates every stick and stone and even every prod- 
uct of man's handiwork. Outwardly dead as 
the proverbial door-nail, but perversity re- 
mains. It is surely not to be questioned that 
never a tack escaped from its paper case or 
proper place in the carpet but for very joy 
stood on its head and fiendishly anticipated the 
world's contact with its other end. 

Time would not suflBce to write the history of 
a world, the perversity of which is its sole onmi- 
present feature, but its victims find some relief 
in occasional expostulation. It would be hard 
indeed if there was not salve for every wound. 
This is not so much an attempt at an essay as a 
victim's cry, which he would have prove a warn- 
ing, were it not that this is but a word in the 
dictionary. Our own perversity enters a pro- 
test here. No man holds he has need of knowl- 
edge got so easily. 

A century ago, a slippery, slime-coated, ser- 
pent-simulating snag in Orosswicks Creek held 
my grandfather's boat for four long hours. 

188 



Peripatetic Meditations 



Only the tide could help, it seemed, and it took 
its own time abont it. Now, time and tide wait 
for no man, but we have sometimes to wait for 
them. They know how helpless we are, in spite 
of all onr boasting, and with them perversity 
makes its headquarters. Time and tide: I too 
have had to do with them and grown old in vain 
contention. That same snag of 1804 still flour- 
ishes, and not long ago, at low tide, hid itself 
so cunningly that I was entrapped, but I did not 
play the part of waiting as grandfather did. I 
attempted to wade ashore ; and if snags are per- 
verse, what of mudf The Crosswicks mud is all 
suctorial discs. I could scarcely move. To take 
a step was impossible. My grandfather was 
wise in his day. The snag held the boat, but the 
boat held him. I let the snag have my boat and 
the mud had me. 

*^If you had had but patience," I was told, on 
reaching home, *^ there would have been less 
trouble." 

This is as near to a solution of the vexatious 
problem as we are likely ever to come. Have 
patience. With it, perversity may be shorn of 
some of its virulence. The end of life's journey 
may be reached with both body and soul intact 

189 



The Rambles of an Idler 



in spite of the persistent malevolence of the 
inanimate world. 

There is no hour like that of snnrise after a 
three days' storm. The pent-up energies are 
all set free. Nature rejoices now with a vim 
that bewilders. Nothing is still. The morning 
breeze reaches the lowest blade of grass. The 
human brain needs all its joints well oiled at 
such a time. Thinking can be too slow a process 
when Nature hustles. A hundred birds about 
you and all shouting at once demand more than 
the brain can accomplish. To-day, only the 
clouds were leisurely paced. They would not 
be hurried, though the heavens fell. The eagle 
that darted among them moved them not. 

It is exhilarating at first, but wearying soon, 
not to know which way to turn. To-day, at sun- 
rise, was the ornithological high tide of the year. 
An opportunity to consider birds in general ; to 
consider any one in particular was impossible. 
Each endeavored to out-sing his neighbor. Not 
one chirped, all shouted. There was no ob- 
structing dust or moisture in the air, nor en- 
vious wind to carry off the sound. It was on 
my part a breathing of music, and with it that 

190 



Peripatetic Meditations 



subtle scent of leaf and flower when all is quick- 
ened with the thrill of life and death a thing for- 
gotten. 

Earth's renaissance, and why not ours? Let 
us feel young again, if we cannot be so. There 
are yet days to come in this blessed month, and 
while they last I purpose laughing at my aches 
and pains. 



191 



CHAPTER FOUR 

CANDOB 

Recently a lady remarked to me, **Let me tell 
you candidly that I never thought of such a 
thing/' I was forced to admit that I was mis- 
taken and both of us were lying. There was no 
other way of settling a rather trivial matter, as 
society is now constituted, and we each pri- 
vately congratulated ourselves at being freed 
from an embarrassing circumstance. The 
adopted method of the world was followed to a 
nicety and now, thinking it over, I wonder why 
the word ** candor '* is not dropped from our 
language. Why, indeed, tax our memory with 
a word that, while having a meaning, is never 
put to any practical use! 

We daily hear, when strangers are intro- 
duced, **I am very happy to have met you,*' 
when such a desirable phase of mind is impos- 
sible. A stranger is an unknown quantity in 
our lives. We can give him or her no rational 

192 



Candor 

consideration until subsequent and often fre- 
quent interviews demonstrate the desirability 
of acquaintance, and yet, without hesitation, we 
assure the new comer into our lives that the 
chance meeting has caused us happiness. If so, 
happiness must be a very cheap commodity. 
We pretend to be confident, on the instant, that 
an added blessing is ours, and it is mere pre- 
tense. We may mean that we hope the meeting 
will prove productive of mutual satisfaction in 
the future, and yet we do not dare to say so. 
What, pray, of that quality known as candor? 

It is suggested that to go into details when a 
matter is of no particular importance would be 
a waste of time, and this, of itself, excuses every 
little slip and petty frivolity of speech in polite 
society. 

A waste of time? I take it that time with 
candor eliminated is not worth the value usually 
put upon it. 

** A matter of opinion,'* suggests a critic. 

*^And what is not?'^ I ask. **As one that 
rebels, I do not mean to be silenced by those 
that subscribe to slavery. Though I turn every 
friend to a foe I will say what I think.'* 

**Then you're a fool,'' remarks the critic. 
193 



The Rambles of an Idler 



'^Sobeit/» 

But really, there is no good reason why we 
should not try walking in difficult paths. The 
exercise is good for us, even if the attempt to 
reach a goal is a failure. Pope suggests, **be 
candid when you can, * ^ thus intimating there are 
times and circumstances when and where we 
cannot be. Becognizing such, why not avoid 
them? 

**This is lack of candor,'' asserts the critic. 

**Who, then, is not a liar?" 

Here, too, is another phase of the matter, and 
a false view, I take it. 

Give me the avow'd, the erect, the manly foe, 
Bold I can meet — perhaps may turn his blow; 
But of all plagues, Good Heaven, thy wrath can send, 
I pray Thee, save me from the Candid Friend. 

But a moment ago my candid friend caUed me 
a fool, but he is none the less my friend because 
of that. It may be after all that he is right, 
and, whether right or wrong, cannot affect the 
final issue. His candor is his attraction. If he 
was otherwise, he would be insipid ; as salt that 
has lost its savor. His candor spurs me on to 
attempt the discovery of the truth, whether a 

194 



Candor 

fool or not. This adds a zest to life, so great a 
one that I hope to die in ignorance. 

Truth must be sacrificed for politeness' sake. 
As the world goes, this cannot be questioned, 
but why language should be distorted and words 
used in a way not warranted by the dictionary, 
is not plain. It is strange that our real selves 
cannot be shown to others without offense. Can- 
dor — the dazzling whiteness of absolute honesty 
— ^which should be a desirable quality, is for- 
ever kept in the background. To let it come to 
the forefront is not to gain friends but to make 
enemies. To insure success we must be polite, 
diplomatic, vague, insincere ; to be popular we 
must call black white, and in sober truth lie 
continually that no hitch occur in the smooth 
running of the world. We must play a part, 
evade the actualities and give to others a pleas- 
ing impression, though a radically false one. 
Little wonder, then, that long ago the words of 
our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts 
should have been looked upon as having naught 
to do with each other, and the conclusion 
reached by some hard-headed, brutal Dutchman 
that while speech might be silver, silence was 

195 



The Bambles of an Idler 



golden^ or speedi being hmnaii, silence was cer- 
tainly divine. Candor is social snicide. Thus 
is constituted society, in the conunon accepta- 
tion of that term. 

Beyond its pale, there is fonnd a saving rem- 
nant of this admirable trait, from which excel- 
lent lessons may be learned. To meet with sim- 
ple folk who mean what they say is like passing 
from a stuffy parlor to the pure ont-door air. 
It may sho<^ like intense cold, bnt not x>emi- 
cionsly; rather an exhilaration that results in 
no baleful reaction. Wholesome truth, like 
wholesome food, builds us up as surely as un- 
wholesome insincerity tears us down. Build up 
bricks with mud instead of mortar and the struc- 
ture falls. Still farther away from society's 
sacred bounds, the wild life in the woods says 
what it means, as when the snapping turtle go- 
eth about with murder in its heart and murder 
in its eye as well. Only a fool will be deceived 
by it, and is this not to the turtle's honor? The 
rattlesnake gives fair warning before it strikes. 
It is an honest snake, not a sneak, and we can- 
not say as much of all people whom we meet. 
It is scarcely asking too much to treat the in- 
ferior world with fairness. 

196 



Candor 

In my daily rambles I find abundant evidence 
of this delightful condition, to use a popular 
example of accepted method of distorting lan- 
guage. If others do not, it is because they meas- 
ure the out-door world by drawing-room stand- 
ards, and so frequently is this done that many 
a misinterpretation of what a bird or beast does 
or means has very often been given us. The 
hissing of snakes, harsh chirping of birds, and 
snarls of the wild wood's furry folk are candid 
expressions of these various creatures' opinions 
and not necessarily uncomplimentary because 
vigorously uttered. Wild life knows nothing of 
white lies. It simply says what it feels, and is 
willing to accept all consequences. If you enter 
its domain in a friendly way and not on mischief 
bent, you will not be berated, but asked only 
that the golden rule be obeyed. Not long ago, in 
the white light of a full moon, I came suddenly 
face to face with a jovial, roving owl. It stared 
at me for a moment, clicked its bill, chattered 
a few syllables, crisp as the breaking of thin 
ice, and left its perch abruptly. The true iater- 
pretation was: **I doubt your motive in being 
here/' It acted accordingly. Here was can- 
dor. But if I am suddenly confronted by a 

197 



The Rambles of an Idler 



human being and at the time not wishing to be 
disturbed, and, saying so in plain words, turn 
away, then it is rudeness, and pitilessly con- 
demned. It is very inconvenient, to say the 
least, and I prefer the owl's standard. My only 
treasure is my time, but the world sees fit to 
lay claim to it, it appears, and I must not de- 
mur. At least, I will have so much candor as 
to express my opinion. 

Such a view of the world into which we find 
ourselves thrust without being consulted is not 
of necessity inimicable to friendship. As all 
work and no play is destructive to man's best 
interests, so isolation from humanity or abso- 
lute distrust of it would be fatal to any really 
valuable outcome of a life. We need friends as 
surely as we need food, but a true friend should 
not be disturbed by candor. There should be 
such understanding between congenial persons 
that an honest expression of opinion will not 
prove a shock to him who hears it. If there is 
not this, then the friendship is certain to be one 
of form, not fact, and, like many an apple in 
my orchard, as I learn to my sorrow, hollow, if 
not rotten, at the core. 

198 



Candor 

I am told that those are most successful so- 
cially who are most cumiing at deception; that 
they only have troops of friends and always 
keep them. They are welcome to the posses- 
sion. It is too great a tax upon time and 
temper to be forever struggling to conceal the 
truth. I prefer the owl that I met the other 
night to the man who owns the woodland tract 
wherein I met it. Candor is far older than hu- 
manity, and the race has not gained by persis- 
tently ignoring its existence. If we are per- 
mitted to be candid with ourselves, it should not 
be amiss to be equally so with others. 

Akin to the lack of candot is that misuse of 
language which carries us away by ringing in 
our ears high-sounding phrases, and, because 
the ear is seduced, allowing our sober second- 
thought to be equally wronged. This effect of 
words upon our sense of hearing is one worthy 
of close attention. Music is not confined to the 
melody that wells up from tuneful throats or 
responds to the skill of those who have gained 
mastery over sound-producing instruments. 
Words may be so spoken, if arranged in cunning 
order, that the ear is charmed. We are made 
captive by rhythm and accent — ^by accurately- 

199 



The Rambles of an Idler 



measTired lines and rhyme: taken, indeed, so 
completely captive that judgment suspends its 
function, and we are led on, as it were, blind- 
folded. We are carried away; we dance to 
whatever measure cunning whistles, and are so 
happy as puppets in another's care that we 
shudder at the thought, if it arises, at a return 
to personal responsibility. The often-quoted 

Lives of great men all remind us, 
We may make our lives sublime 

is an excellent example of what is meant; for 
let a beam of light fall clear and direct upon 
these lines, developing and defining all that is 
in them, and their true value will be accurately 
discerned. 

Lives of great men do not remind us of any- 
thing beyond the fact that these men were great. 
No eager student and devoted follower of any 
great figure in history ever became, so to speak, 
a reincarnation of that man. All greatness is 
necessarily unique in its day, and must neces- 
sarily remain so. We can make our own lives 
sublime just so far as there is innate sublimity, 
providing we have the courage to bring it out — 
all of which has naught to do with familiarity 

200 



Candor 

with another's story, but comes through influ- 
ences over which we have no control. Great- 
ness is as much a fruit of its time, irrespective 
of the past, as apples, good, bad, or indifferent, 
are the product of an orchard. 

Study of the difficulties that beset the path of 
greatness, when they did beset it, and how they 
were overcome, may serve to teach us how we 
may get over obstacles that block our progress, 
or seem to do so ; but this does not necessarily 
lead to sublimity of life. To pull through at all 
is the measure of success that is the lot of most 
of us ; and ambition, unchecked, is as dangerous 
as fire, which may warm us to a more healthful 
activity, but in which the power and disposi- 
tion to consume are always present, and the 
world hears only of the scanty few who escape 
— the little handful upon whom Fortune smiled. 

General literature does not require, and 
poetry should not depend upon, license. Figu- 
rative expression is too liable to be miscon- 
strued to warrant its use, except in the rarest 
cases, when befogging the purport is reduced 
to a minimum; and the author who has not 
a presentable idea, couched in proper terms or 
enough basis of thought to warrant a plain 

201 



The Rambles of an Idler 



statement lacks the best of reasons for attempt- 
ing authorship. 

It may be objected that, given a direct asser- 
tion, there may be more than one view of its 
significance; and the advocate of each view 
will use all the power of language to defend his 
own conclusion. How, then, it is asked, is the 
layman to decide when the doctors disagree! 
Our only hope lies in the honesty of the doctors ; 
and this honesty is exercised only by the use, 
and not the misuse, of language — ^by admitting 
the weakness of one's own arguments, as well 
as their strength, and not misquoting an ad- 
versary or the assertion, itself, under discus- 
sion. Words, with their meaning, should be the 
debater's stock-in-trade — ^not words merely. 
Rhetorical flourish, sophomorical display, and 
lexicographic hysteria may convince for a time ; 
but the convinoement is quite likely to be that a 
palpable lie is the plain, unvarnished truth. 
Many a writer thinks he has gained a victory if 
he has gained a few followers ; but, is it honor- 
able victory when the means used was verbal 
jugglery? 

There is no disposition to decry elegance of 
diction. Fine raiment fits the form of Truth 

202 



Candor 

with telling effect; her beauty is increased by it ; 
but cunning, likewise, has learned the art of 
decorating a lie until it, too, is lovely to look 
upon. The curse of it is the diflSculty to distin- 
guish between them. The unthinking crowd 
cannot; so much the more does it behoove hon- 
esty to deal only with plainness of speech — to 
call the proverbial spade a spade. Literature 
that is literature — ^the recorded thought that is 
to remain long after the thinker has passed 
away — ^by so doing, will not suffer. 



203 



CHAPTER FIVE 

THE EXCELLENCE OF MISFOBTUNB 

I know nothing more delightful than to meet 
with disaster. Only then do we discover onr 
real selves. The easy-going man knows little 
more than his own name. I do not refer to 
battle, mnrder and to sudden death, as the Pray- 
er Book has it, but the coming to grief of life's 
minor details. Carefully laid plans, for in- 
stance, however elaborate, if they meet with 
no obstacles, are apt to lead to disappointment. 
This is the lesson we should learn from the ex- 
periences of others, but the searchlight of fore- 
thought is not often pointed in the right direc- 
tion. He is a truly wonderful man who does 
not except himself from all restraining condi- 
tions. ** All men think all men mortal but them- 
selves.'' 

Acquisition is just beyond our fingers' ends. 
We must reach upward or outward, stand upon 

204 



The Excellence of Misfortune 

tip-toe or lean far forward, and then success 
crowns the effort. This is the exertion the world 
demands, and, though we count it a misfortune 
not to possess without effort, it is really a 
blessing. Let ingenuity die and courage lan- 
guish, and we might better die with it than con- 
tinue on earth. Our presence ceases to be of 
advantage to others. We all love to be lazy, I 
admit, but this is because degeneracy has set 
in, or development has not progressed; and in- 
dolence should not be confounded with the 
healthy reaction following the intoxication of 
success. There is a time to rest from our la- 
bors, but many labor only as an excuse for rest- 
ing. Dreamland is the nearest foreign shore, 
and the stream of travel flows always in that 
direction. We incline to be lazy when the spur 
of ambition is dulled. We do not feel its prick- 
ing and gradually lose knowledge of ourselves.. 
To meet with disaster is the only efficient cure. 
Our first effort a success, we are too prone 
to be content therewith and disinclined to make 
a second. As if the sapling oak was so pleased 
with its first acorn, it willingly remained a bar- 
ren tree thereafter. Such things are not known 
in Nature, but man, with a mistaken view of Na- 

205 



The Rambles of an Idler 



tare's methods, assnmes to be something supe- 
rior to her. He sets his individual opinion 
against the matured wisdom of the ages and 
errs in proportion to the inflexibility of his con- 
clusions. The drone is a common ideal at life's 
outset. The worker is looked down upon. But to 
which belongs the honey! The drone invariably 
claims a share, but his argument has never 
proved valid. The worker is not such because 
the required labor is light and every flower 
offers honey. If this were true, labor would be 
only active indolence. It is failure that rouses 
the inborn energies, self asserts itself, pride is 
awakened, the real bee knows its strength, and 
labor is rewarded when the choice flowers are 
found. Moments of actual joy are worth a life- 
time of theoretical pleasure. As to Nature, we 
receive nothing from her for the mere asking. 
Where man lives on the banana, he does no more 
than breathe. He is as soulless as the fruit 
upon which he feeds. To plant, to guard the 
growing crop, to reap, — these are the stimulat- 
ing efforts that develop and make us conquerors 
at last. We are free to choose, but no one 
dwells in a palace who only dreams of marble. 
That hungry man who sprawled beneath the 

206 



The Excellence of Misfortune 

tree did not have an apple fall into his mouth. 
His brother, who climbed among the branches, 
went away filled. Did the opposite prove true, 
the world would not advance ; and he who labor- 
iously climbs, seemingly in vain, wiU reach the 
fairest fruit, at last. 

Better than this, the wrong tree must often 
be climbed over. Our efforts must gain us only 
bitter fruit, at first. How else can we know of 
that which is sweeter? The world is an aggre- 
gation of comparative excellence. If our dis- 
comfort satisfied, comfort would be unsuspect- 
ed. If we knew all things, there would be no 
effort ; omniscience would reduce us to an aim- 
less hulk. Life is a struggle to attain and ob- 
tain. Our goal is a direction, not a fixed point 
in space. 

Defeat, disaster, destruction, despair, a 
gloomy procession of ill-boding words, the four 
walls of a chamber of horrors ; but what of de- 
cision, determination, development, delight? 
We are free to choose. The effective sermon 
can come only from outside ourselves. We are 
children of Nature, and back to her we must 
turn when the path* taken has proved to be the 
wrong one. The platitudes of brother man irri- 

207 



The Rambles of an Idler 



tate more than educate. Back to Nature and 
start aright. There would be no going astray, 
if we remembered her teachings. Ignorance of 
Nature is more fatal than ignorance of man or 
his teachings. The oak depends upon the soil 
wherein it is rooted. We pull ourselves up by 
the roots and, teetering hither and yon, bewail 
our fate when a puff of wind overturns us. 

Back to Nature and sink self to its proper 
level. There are vines that start g,t the root of 
crooked trees and have endless twistings and 
turnings to follow. That rebellion should be a 
foremost thought seems natural from our point 
of view, but it is not. The vine counts the ad- 
vantage of a crooked path. The outlook is more 
varied, the experience more complex, but the 
open world at the tree-top is reached at last. 
Success that comes too early rests on weak 
shoulders. They bend early and age is decrepit 
in advance of its years. 

Disaster and despair, our common fate and 
greatest weakness, are commonly associated in 
the mind, but not logically. No road is so bar- 
ren that we learn nothing as we pass along. 
When we turn back, the facts we have gathered 
better fit us for 1;he proper path. Our spent 

208 



The Excellence of Misfortune 

energy was not for a bauble. To despair is to 
call Mother Earth a fraud. Why should any 
one despair! 

A thousand things are hidden still 
And not a hundred known. 

There is enough to do to keep happily busy 
during your remaining, rightly directed years. 
There is no firmer foundation than a blunder; 
no more hopeful remark than, **I see where I 
made a mistake." No other sight has such edu- 
cational value. We can build on it and feel 
safe ; but not all the superstructures of callow 
confidence have withstood Time's buffetings. 

**I am struck," writes Thoreau, **by the fact 
that the more slowly trees grow at first, the 
sounder they are at the core, and I think thi^ 
same is true of human beings. We do not wish 
to see children precocious, making great strides 
in their early years, like sprouts producing si 
soft and perishable timber; but better if they 
expand slowly at first, as if contending with 
diflSculties, and so are solidified and perfected. 
Such trees continue and expand with nearly 
equal rapidity to an extreme old age." 

The world owes no man a living. He is only 
209 



The Eambles of an Idler 



free to get it, if he can. How best to do so, is 
the momentous question. I hold that the surest 
road to success is that beset with obstacles. I 
do not find that wild life, as we call it, is readily 
discouraged, and it is never in any sense free 
and easy. Man's enemies are many, but Na- 
ture's humbler children have legions of implac- 
able foes. Man, at times, can walk in perfect 
peace; not so, at any time, can beast, bird, or 
butterfly. 

Did the mouse not fear the weasel, and the 
weasel not stop to listen when it heard my foot- 
steps; did the squirrel not crouch when the 
hawk hovered above it, and the hawk scream 
when plagued by passing crows, I do not know 
why I should walk in the fields. I am not anx- 
ious to witness a tragedy, but I am filled with 
excitement when the exercise of ingenuity is 
shown and an obstacle successfully removed or 
avoided. Give the world at large an easy time, 
and I hope to get out of it. There is nothing 
so monotonous as inactive life. 

**So, then, because thou art lukewarm, and 
neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my 
mouth.'' 

I remember recently meeting with a superb 
210 



The Excellence of Misfortune 

snake. There was not a plate of its armor 
that did not shine, and as I drew near, it raised 
a threatening front. What, indeed, was I, to 
obstruct its path! But I did obstruct it. It 
essayed to pass me, but I checked its progress 
with my cane and sent it spinning through the 
air. It approached again, but cautiously, and I 
made ready with my cane to catch it once more. 
Not so. It saw my *' made-ready*' attitude and 
studied it cleverly. It made a feint to pass me 
on the left, and when off my guard, for an in- 
stant, darted by on my right. 

Our Indians, so it is said, credited black- 
snakes with greater intelligence or cunning than 
the other species found about here, and I am 
ready to believe it. I ask no better evidence 
of the creature's mentality than this snake of- 
fered; but the point I here raise is, that my 
rough usage was not looked upon as disastrous 
or even discouraging. It was merely an inti- 
mation to try a new method with eyes more 
widely opened, and the newer method led to 
success. 

I have seen pike leap over the cork-line of a 
net, and once saw one burrow under the lead- 
line. To turn back, in either case, would have 

211 



The Eambles of an Idler 



been safer, but the obstacle was met, and how 
far insuperable was a matter to be tested. The 
idea of discouragement has not yet taken a 
strong hold of even the lower forms of life. An- 
ecdotes are endless as to the ingenuity of ani- 
mals. They encounter as many diflSculties as 
does man and in all probability overcome a 
far greater proportion. It is based on the as- 
sumption that I have argued long on the impor- 
tance of studying the habits of animals that we 
may the better meet the exigencies of our own 
lives. Natural history is as trustworthy a guide 
as hmnan history. The former is logical, and 
a long array of facts ; but the latter is a record 
of blunders more than of great accomplish- 
ments, and so changeful is the world, the past 
has but little applicability to the present. This 
is not true of natural history. It started on 
right lines and has not wandered far from the 
desired direction. The long journey from pro- 
toplasm to man was one with little loss of time 
or energy through uncertainty of purpose or 
vague Wandering in a trackless desert ; but since 
the goal of manhood has been reached, the floun- 
dering nearly equals the well-directed purpose, 
if we read history aright. 

212 



The Excellence of Misfortune 

We can well adfford to look backward, to go to 
the ant, consider her ways and be wise. 

The mistakes of a lifetime are fewer among 
the lower forms of life than among ourselves. 
Theirs is greater singleness of purpose and so 
proportionately less risk of erroneous judg- 
ment; but mistakes do occur, diflSculties con- 
front and barriers are found set up against 
them. Disappointment doubtless ensues, but 
not despair. The brain is quickened by the test 
to which it is put, not rendered sluggish by de- 
spondency. Experimentation on our part shows 
this to be true. Interfere with a bird while the 
nest is being built, and we have one of two re- 
sults ; the structure is completed to conform to 
the altered surroundings, or a new site is cho- 
sen ; the purpose of nest-building is not aban- 
doned. The ' * try, try again, ^ ^ that is dolorously 
chanted in the nursery, often to the child's dis- 
gust, is not needed in the nurseries of Nature. 
To repeat the effort is a matter of course. That 
life is labor is recognized by wild life at the 
outset of each individuaPs career and accepted 
cheerfully. We cannot always say as much for 
ourselves. 

Throughout our summers we have several 
213 



The Eambles of an Idler 



representatives of a family of birds known as 
the tyrant flycatchers. They are not musical, 
nor brightly plumaged, nor noticeable because 
of size or by their nmnbers; but greater than 
all these features of bird-life, they have one 
merit, indomitable pluck. Long before Riche- 
lieu petulantly exclaimed there was no such 
word as ''fail," these flycatchers knew the fact 
and cheerfully accepted its significance. The 
flycatcher's life depends upon capturing fleet- 
winged insects in mid-air. There is equal ad- 
vantage, and success by no means crowns every 
effort of the bird. I have often seen the pur- 
suer and pursued darting frantically here and 
there, speeding like lightning, skyward and 
earthward, and when the chase seemed at an 
end, safety came to the insect and the baffled 
bird returned, panting and exhausted, to its 
perch. 

A moment's rest is all it asks. There is no 
seductive thought that life's lines are drawn too 
tight. The single aim is to capture living in- 
sects, and again the bird sights its prey. Again 
the rapid wings are in motion, again the skillful 
turning and twisting and at length, success, on 
the bird's part, is secure. 

214 



The Excellence of Misfortune 

Compare this with the familiar, *'0h, IVe 
tried and given it up/^ 

I doubt if ever a fish-hawk hungered long be- 
cause robbed by a bald eagle. It has faith in its 
resources, although they fail it at times. The 
eagle's back may be turned, next time, and 
chance has a value which is worth reckoning 
with; its own wings may be a match for the 
eagle in the next contest. At least, the bird is 
so far encouraged as to try again, and a fair 
measure of success is shown by the fact that 
fish-hawks hold their own against the race of 
eagles. 

Nature, wherever we turn, tells the same 
story. Nowhere is permitted unobstructed 
progress, uniform success. This would mean 
stagnation. Think of the ocean without its 
waves. To stand long on its shores, gazing at 
monotony, would drive us mad. The haps are 
delights, but the world's mishaps, as we call 
them, test our strength. How else should we 
know that we are strong? Our ^ood fortune 
bears a distinct relationship to our misfortune. 
Success that rests on the ruins of our failures 
stands upon a firm foundation. 



215 



CHAPTEE SIX 

UNDER THE OAKS AND ELSEWHERE 

Under the oaks ! Words these that may mean 
much or little. It depends nothing upon the 
trees; everything upon the person. He who 
seeks the shade of venerable oaks goes to a 
choice sanctuary. Under the oaks of the home 
hillside, I replace the English colonists and like- 
wise the Indian who preceded him. These, in- 
deed, are venerable oaks ! A century counts for 
little, considering the age of many into whose 
branches I peer as I lie on the moss that man- 
tles their wide-spreading, twisted roots. 

The oaks here stand for the eternal rocks. In 
the range of my ordinary rambles I know of 
not one that is dead. They are the representa- 
tive features of our fixedness. Gone, and my 
little world would crumble. The beeches com- 
mand my admiration, the tall birches in their 
tattered coats are entertaining; so, too, the 

216 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

elms, maples, persimmons, gums and spreading 
chestnuts; all admirable, all eminently worthy 
of consideration, but only the oaks inspire awe. 
Mankind, these later years, is disposed to stand 
aloof from awe-inspiring objects. They are in- 
comprehensible and confusing to little brains 
and have grown distasteful to big ones. Eever- 
ential fear has lost its hold. The contemplative 
element of the mind is now an inconspicuous 
one, probably because ** strained from its fair 
use.^' None but quieting thoughts should come 
when near an oak. No vexing problem or base- 
less fear should rob us of comfort when the 
tree^s sheltering arms are extended over us. 
The whispering of the sun-resisting leaves 
should soothe us. Their message is Peace, but 
our ears are not always attuned to hear it. Ar- 
tificiality has crowded appreciation of Nature 
so close to the wall, it is as thin as a shadow. 
Given opportunity to assert itself occasionally 
it has not suflScient strength to reach to sub- 
stantial benefit. I think I have known where 
an old oak had no significance. I know I have 
known where the undergrowing grass and flow- 
ers, the birds and bright blue sky, have con- 
veyed no meaning. 

217 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Not a day in the year but an oak tree means 
more than one can realize. It is never enough 
to murmur its name and pass it by as you 
might some casual acquaintance. You can nod 
all day to an oak, but how often does the oak 
nod to you? When we have more oak trees, if 
in my time, I shall look for the millenium to 
peep over the hills and happiness overspread 
the valleys. Never a day but an oak tree is a 
preacher and a teacher of a worthy kind: in 
June, when the tree's leafy crown is in the full 
freshness of its glory ; — in December, when its 
gaunt arms are still bravely extended, defying 
the storms that gather about it. 

An oak tree in June tells a long story, but 
never is a word of it one too many. The eye 
and the ear are reinvigorated by each new inci- 
dent, and there is no surfeiting. We are in a 
state of blissful expectancy from dawn to dark 
and keenly alert to the still stranger stories that 
are told in the moonlight. A day under the oaks 
is never too long; a moonlit night is all too 
swift of pace. 

An oak tree is a home as well as a temporary 
shelter, for all life; a woodside inn for weary 
travelers. The migrating hosts of birds, in 

218 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

their season, survey the country from many an 
oak tree's top. When the leaves are mere 
babies, — ^pink, yellow and fuzzy, and the level 
rays of the rising sun add to their beauty, have 
a host of Canadian warblers wander through 
the tree-top's twiggy maze, as I saw them re- 
cently, and one picture of the round year is 
complete. This, in May. When the bare 
branches of the same old oak are lined against 
a pitiless, cold sky, let them be suddenly flooded 
with the ruddy light of the setting sun and at 
the same moment have a goodly company of 
waxwings as suddenly appear, lisp a few sylla- 
bles and vanish, and another story is told. 
This, in December. 

Elsewhere, at certain seasons, the rambler's 
pathway may not lead to Elysium. The outlook 
may be depressing and visions of the fireside 
dim the scant merit of the out-door world. 
Never so, under the oaks. They are ever suffi- 
cient. They make the accessories of summer 
luxuries, such as they are, no hardship to fore- 
go. Many a year has passed since I learned 
this, and to-day, for the ten thousandth time, 
the Carolina wren announced it in his masterful 

219 



Tlie Rambles of an Idler 



way as I rested in the shade of this blissful Ar- 
cady. 

Eurek — Eurek — Eureka! whistled the bird, a 
veritable Prince Polyglot, custodian of the 
charms of this ancient wood. He never asks a 
holiday. Summer and winter alike, he bids dull 
care begone, and if the rambler is willing, ini- 
tiates him into the fold that know the ** sylvan 
secrets,** and, knowing, see and hear what be- 
fore had not been recognized, 

0, many mooded Master Bird I 
Long since, the day when first I heard 
Thy wisdom shouted down the glen, 
Where, hidden from the gaze of men, 
Thou hadst thy home, Inspiring Wren ; 
And now, with burden of my years 
No path so bright, but dimmed by tears; 
Yet know the merit of thy thought, 
Not vainly here, content is sought. 

Still, while I linger yet on earth. 
Cheer each new day as it has birth ; 
And, as in years long gone, may we 
As friend with friend, together see. 
These blessM oaks, this Arcady. 
Whene'er I trace each charmed spot. 
Be thou my guide. Prince Polyglot. 



220 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

In a recent geological report it is stated that 
the largest white oak in New Jersey is nearly 
twenty-five feet in circumference, and its spread 
of branches more than one hundred feet. I re- 
member an oak much larger, but size is not 
everything from a wise rambler's point of view. 
Much smaller trees will meet his needs, but they 
must be oaks. We can meet with people any- 
where, but mere humanity does not suflSoe. We 
demand congeniality. To grasp my meaning 
better, try the trees as you find them, — ^maples, 
ashes, cedars, and then halt in a grove of oaks. 
Possibly the former will please, but surely the 
latter will wholly satisfy. That the Druids held 
the oak tree sacred is a myth, but one too pretty 
to brush aside. There is a sweet reasonableness 
in many a pagan rite. 

I am continually told that oaks are not plant- 
ed because of so slow a growth. It is not a valid 
reason. Not so long ago I planted the acorn 
that is now an oak tree, in the shade of which I 
find comfort. The planting of an oak is the 
performance of work that lasts; yet how few 
are planted ! We are too busy with soft wood 
that perishes before our eyes. 

Trees are ever something more than Nature's 
221 



The Eambles of an Idler 



most forceful expression of vegetation. Boot, 
trunk and branches constitute the tree in that 
literal sense loved by laziness, but what do they 
stand for? They are healthy products of crea- 
tive force. They honestly fill the purpose of 
their being; creator and created on an equality. 
All of that purpose is yet to be determined ; but 
why such endless variety? Here we can wisely 
speculate, for speculation in this direction leads 
to the upturning of many a minor fact. 

I am sitting now in the shade of a chestnut- 
leaved oak, lacking little of four feet in diam- 
eter and with a spread of branches of about 
eighty feet. A single glance tells me that the 
tree is something more than so much wood. Its 
story is in three chapters, roots, trunk and 
branches, and these we cannot dissociate from 
their immediate or even remote surroundings. 
No form of terrestrial life shuns a tree, and in 
South America there is a fish that climbs them. 
Here, at home, if life does not take up its abode 
in a tree, it is ever on it or under it. The bur- 
rowed earth tells certainly of more than one 
animal that is at home among the twisted roots. 
I can see one hollow that has harbored a squir- 
rel if it does not now, and then how these crea- 

222 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

tures go bounding through its branches, and, 
leaping in the air, clutch at the nearest twig. 
Always within one of falling, yet never touch- 
ing the earth. That this old oak lives not whol- 
ly to itself is not its least merit. The rambler 
has no idle time if he keeps up with the proces- 
sion, of which this tree is the parade-ground. 
At the foot of an oak tree is a poor place to be 
alone. To indulge in solitude it is better to 
wander through the city^s busy streets. 

When we know what an oak tree means to all 
those forms of life that gather about it, we shall 
know what it stands for in the scheme of crea- 
tion, and not until then. 

The^ fact that we always speak of a ^^ sober*' 
brown or a ''dull'' brown is enough to condemn 
the color. The witchery of pink blossoms when 
spring was here and the gay colors of summer 
were so captivating that now it is vexatious to 
find the landscape mono-tinted and dull brown 
at that. Brown is near akin to funereal black; 
and we condemn both colors as not compatible 
with cheerfulness. So, I find, wags the world, 
hopelessly ignorant in the possession of half a 
fact. What of a nut-brown November dayt 

223 



The Eambles of an Idler 



The gloss on the chestnut redeems the color 
and gladdens the eye, and thoughts of decay do 
not go with the blanched sheUbarks that fall 
with force upon the sunbaked sod and roll into 
crisp grass covers that try my patience. When 
greed is uppermost, the precise tint of the treas- 
ure means nothing. A November day, in the 
meadows, under shellbark hickories, or in some 
remote upland field, under a spreading chestnut 
tree, offers, hour for hour, more objects for ad- 
miration than half the days since June. The 
crumbs from the table but vaguely hint of the 
feast, but this is not fairly applied to Nature ^s 
board. There is no interim when it is bare. 
The wayfarer can find one dish, if not a dozen, 
and his digestion is the gainer. A November 
day is not an empty one, if we only make a col- 
lection of acorns. How many neighbors have 
you who can name the oaks by their fruits? 

The demand for endless variety is not indica- 
tive of immeasurable capacity to assimilate it. 
He who knows that a single grain of sand is a 
fragment of quartz and was once a part of a 
vein of glassy rock, and how it came to be what 
it was and is, is wiser than are those tiresome 
utilitarians who crowd the highways and cry 

224 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

sand ! sand I all the day, as if they would sell it 
by the ton. 

Waiting for a moment until another shellbark 
dropped, a blue-jay perched upon a bare twig 
and sang after its fashion. It was a short series 
of discordant notes; collectively, a harsh, rat- 
tling, corvine call, and yet it blended well with 
the gnarly branches and shaggy bark. Ooarse, 
but honest to the core. There was nothing for 
mere appearance's sake, such as gluts you in 
modern assemblages of men. The blue-jay is a 
bird murderer, but he does not care a whit who 
knows it. There is no stabbing in the back 
about him, and now that the spared nestlings 
of summer are all on the wing, and there is no 
lack of them, we forget the foul deeds, as we 
thought them, that so sorely vexed us in June, 
and take the jay for what he is to-day. No 
summer sky was ever a finer blue than is his 
plumage, and no jauntier crest ever reared its 
defiance. To whom does he call, I wonder, as 
he cries loudly, again and again, and then, hear- 
ing no answer at all, whips the idle air with 
impatient wings and is gone. The gentle sum- 
mer shower, when every rain-drop falls as if 
saying, ''By your leave,'' is all very well in its 

225 



The Bambles of an Idler 



way, and so, too, the summer warblers, with 
their endless billing and cooing and langaid 
love songs; but it cloys at last. Even if the 
lightning strikes near, the thunder gust is wel- 
comed by a healthy man and the rasping cry 
and gruff, stringent intensity of purpose of a 
blue-jay find a welcome. Energy, not lassitude, 
is now uppermost, and better in November a 
blue-jay, fretful and in its way profane, than 
the amiable blue-bird, never of the earth, 
earthy. 

While a single tree may profitably fill our day, 
it is well to keep on the move and hear more 
than one story ; but never move for mere loco- 
motion 's sake; that is the practice of fools. A 
sloping bluff, which once hemmed in the river, 
is now a respectable woodland tract, boasting 
many an old tree, and not the rudest blasts of 
November gales rob it of all its interest. The 
summer birds have gone, but other birds have 
come ; and, better than birds, now, are the squir- 
rels and mice, and a stray opossum and the 
dreaded skunk. A glimpse of any of these, even 
the mice, is exhilarating. 

A line in the poem of creation is a white- 
footed mouse breakfasting on apple seeds. 

226 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

Some larger creature, probably, carried the ap- 
ple to the woods. Be this as it may, the fruit 
and the mouse are now together, and a day's 
ramble is not likely to bring me face to face with 
anything prettier. There is no means of meas- 
uring the sparkle of a mouse's eye, but it al- 
ways seems brighter than that of a squirrel, and 
every act of the creature is evidence of intelli- 
gence. Now is the day of their bush nests, 
which are birds' nests roofed and refitted for 
winter use. They vary a good deal, and why, 
if the creatures are mere machines, as is so 
persistently claimed? The funniest argument 
that I heard lately in favor of a mouse being 
witless was that they are so easily trapped. 
As if the average lord of creation were not 
caught more than once in his lifetime. 

An interesting feature in the natural history 
of these mice, — and it applies to most of our 
small mammals, — is the fact that at times they 
are extremely abundant and then suddenly they 
all disappear. I cannot determine whether 
they are carried off by a plague or migrate. 
Certainly I do not find them dead, and yet fail 
to discover them migrating. The short-tailed 
meadow mouse shifts from point to point and 

227 



The Bambles of an Idler 



squirrels formerly crossed the river in vast 
numbers; but the ways of mammals in Indian 
days are not their ways to-day. Of course this 
will be disputed, but disputation is as idle as 
the cawing of a crow ; in fact, the latter has usu- 
ally more significance. No bird opens its mouth 
with so little a purpose as only to hear itself 
speak. In this matter of numbers the small 
mammals vary in a more marked degree than 
do the migratory birds. I have known a season, 
now and then, when I could not find a single 
bush nest of the white-footed mouse, and a year 
later they were very common. Even the chip- 
munks vary a great deal in this respect. I have 
known them to be very abundant up to the time 
of taking to their winter quarters, and the com- 
ing spring not one reappeared. Did they die, 
carried off by some plague among them; were 
they killed by weasels, or during the first warm 
days of the new year did they slink off to an- 
other neighborhood? I should be glad to know. 
A year ago our common rabbit was almost a 
nuisance up to mid-September, and then there 
was none. The hunters, who all summer ex- 
pected much sport, were sadly disappointed. K 
a quickly fatal disease broke out among them, 

228 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

why were none found dead? If they migrated, 
how did their movements escape detection? 
There is something yet to leam concerning the 
commonest forms of wild life, and the supposed 
purposes of many a creature may prove some 
day not to be the real ones. 

Nature of a bright November day may be 
subdued, but not to the point of melancholy. 
The brown rushes in the marsh may not excite 
us to exuberant joy as they were sure to do 
when green in summer; but we contemplate 
them with interest, though they hint of death; 
and the chirp of the autumn bird is never a com- 
plaint that the heyday of blossom and bright 
flowers is over for a season. The bird is still 
thankful that something remains, as I find abun- 
dant satisfaction now m counting the heap of 
nuts that I have gathered. The bloom of every 
nut tree was a thing of beauty, but more so, I 
think, is the matured fruit to-day. Nor is this 
all. When the storms of winter make the night 
dreary, before the bright fire on the andirons 
it needs but one of these nuts to call up the 
dreamy landscape, when the meadows were 
fiUed with a golden haze and our more quiet 
thoughts were still of sunshine and content. 

229 



The Rambles of an Idler 



If a thought of approaching winter intrudes 
at all it is when^ on our homeward stretch, we 
hear the feeble song of mole-crickets still un- 
subdued by frost. A vain protest this, that 
frost should come at all, and a trace of sorrow 
overshadows us. Or, it may be, a solitary katy- 
did struggles desperately to assert once more 
that the mythical *'Katy*^ really *^did,^' but 
gets no further than the name. I was amused, 
yet genuinely sorry, to hear again and again an 
ineffectual Ka — Ka and then silence that was 
really sad. The few survivors of October's 
''killing" frosts, as they are called, have, in- 
deed, a hard time of it, but never are they so 
conspicuous as really to mar the remaining 
glories of a clear, nut-brown November day. 

He trode the implanted forest floor, whereon. 
The all-seeing sun for ages hath not shone. 

I, too, tread the forest floor to-day, but not 
as did he to whom Emerson refers. I can no- 
where walk in one direction without reaching 
the scarred surface of the earth, where the plow 
and spade nave obliterated Nature's handiwork. 
Thankful for the little that remains, I walk in 
circles about a few old trees, looking up at the 

230 



ms:>'' 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

peaceful sky, never more beautiful than m the 
mellow light of this December day, or keeping 
my eyes close to the mottled, mossy ground 
between the rugged trunks of the old trees. 

It is a relief to face the real creation. It 
clarifies thought to look at virgin soil. Go from 
a lumber yard to a grove, and you will know 
what I mean. A forest floor to-day I find more 
welcome than a paved street or the tiled hall of 
my neighbor's stately mansion. The '*raw ma- 
terials," as the merchant calls them, and holds 
them, attract me, but not after they are reduced 
to the conditions demanded by our imperious 
civilization. It is all a wonderful story, as when 
a tree to-day is pulp to-morrow, and a news- 
paper the day after. We should all glory in 
such a triumph of human ingenuity, and the 
world scorns all who cannot keep up with its 
progress. So be it ; but I am very glad to spend 
an ideal winter day in the woods ; to tread, as I 
am now doing, a trifling remnant of a forest 
floor; to go back to ''the good old days*' when 
Nature was not interfered with by the hand of 
man. 

When where I stand was first a forest floor 
it is not possible to say. That the higher ground 

231 



The Rambles of an Idler 



beyond hemmed in a wide expanse of water, the 
river broadening to a lake, is the conclusion 
of the geologist, and is not open to discussion. 
Later the waters receded as the climate became 
milder and the glacial period passed into pre- 
history, and now between upland and meadow 
we have a strip of woodland. It has never been 
disturbed, except as Nature works changes in 
the land. Trees have grown, died and decayed, 
and others came promptly to replace them. 
This, the simple story for ten thousand years 
or more, and so it comes where I now stand 
there is a forest floor. The impressions of the 
massive feet of the mastodon, the moose and 
the reindeer were long since obliterated by those 
of the elk, the deer and the bear. The cougar 
gave way to the lynx, and now there are but 
minks, muskrats, opossums, skunks, squirrels 
and mice. A sad gradation from the sublime to 
the commonplace, but, happily, it is the same 
old forest floor. 

December now, and the leaves have fallen. 
The ** all-seeing'* sun shines upon the ground, 
but there is no unobstructed glare such as at 
noonday rests upon the fields. The interlaced 
branches of the oaks cast many a shadow, and 

232 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

few are the rays that are not shut off by the 
spreadmg crowns of the beeches. There is lit- 
tle grass, but much moss, and this so gray that 
it suggests old age. There are few annual 
growths, and these not always conspicuous. 
The wind spitefully heaps the dead leaves over 
many a blossom. Bluets and claytonia in 
spring, asters and goldenrods in autumn — ^these 
come and go in their seasons, but there is al- 
ways the gray moss, that yields softly to my 
step, like tufted carpet. There is no jarring, 
no noise, save when dry twigs are snapped, I 
can pass from tree to tree as silently and swift- 
ly as an Indian, disturbing nothing, distracting 
no bird in the branches overhead and scarcely 
noticed by the mice in their runways that cross 
my path. To be here is a delight at all times, 
and as pleasant now in December as when the 
world was all astir. This is a hazy, meditative 
day, and the forest floor tells its story more 
plainly than it could have done above the songs 
of summer birds. The facts are now laid bare. 
Here and for miles around the bedrock is deep 
down in the earth, and we have only sand and 
pebbles, with an occasional bowlder of preten- 
tious size ; but few are the trees that because of 

233 



The Rambles of an Idler 



a sandy foundation have found themselves seri- 
ously shaken. The surface is stable. Not all 
sand is forever shifting. There is no evidence 
of change except of minor extent, as an occa- 
sional landslide of a few yards. The roots of 
the oaks have defied the wind and rain. The 
soil is poor, as soils are considered by the ag- 
riculturist. Neither grain nor vegetables would 
grow here, even with abundant sunshine and 
moisture to urge them on ; but trees have grown 
and are now in full vigor. Some of the oaks 
were acorns more than two centuries ago. 
There is surely some hidden source of fertility 
that sustains the forest, and barred by the 
shadows of its leafless branches is that floor 
which to-day is so inviting. Moss bears the re- 
lation to grass that age bears to youth, or as 
sober contemplation to the passing idle thought. 
Moss is as dignified as any aged oak. They are 
congenial friends, seldom apart. What the tree 
is to the landscape, so is the moss to the ground 
upon which we tread. 

But there is more upon the ground than moss. 
Looking yet closer about me and recalling very 
distinctly what I have seen at other times, I 
find much that should be mentioned. The acorns 

234 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

that fell a year ago and escaped squirrels, mice 
and worms, are now pretty stems, half a foot 
high, and with two broad leaves. In spots hun- 
dreds of these hide the moss, and, pigmies as 
they are, make a bold front and stand ready to 
possess the land. Elsewhere I see little, low 
bnsh huckleberries, very pretty in their blos- 
soming days ; and nearby is spicewood, beauti- 
ful when its golden bloom sparkles through the 
April woods, fragrant at all times, and still 
partly in leaf. It is a shrub to remember when 
you brush its twigs aside, and, bruising its 
leaves, find your hands scented with the refined 
essence of long summer days ; an odor equal to 
conjuring up all the glory of the past. 

Where now there are but crushed and with- 
ered leaves I see as distinctly as ever the cypri- 
piBdiums, their strange, mottled purple blooms 
brightening the gray moss about them. Rattle- 
snake plantain, too, and rattlesnake weed more 
abundant and quite as pretty. Very barren, so 
it is said, is this mossy forest floor. I have 
heard this said by more than one person while 
they stood in the shadows of the old oaks and 
had all this royal bloom and shrubbery about 
them. Surely stout timber is a goodly growth, 

235 



The Rambles of an Idler 



and an orchid that gives rise to a pleasant 
thonght is not to be despised. I doubt if a field 
of com is the climax of the earth's ambition. 

Mnch besides moss is here, really, but the lat- 
ter is everywhere rather conspicuous. True 
greatness is never overawed by the clamor of 
the insensate crowd, and so with the moss upon 
the forest floor. The mature fruit of a century 
stands for more than the quick growth of a sea- 
son. It has a seigniorial right no upstart can 
successfully dispute. Better a handful of moss 
than a cart-load of weed. 

In the minds of many, all that I have said 
will not suflSce to drive away the impression 
that a forest floor is monotonous. Accepting my 
facts, if not my philosophy, they will ask, 
''What next?'* I fear this eagerness for 
abundant novelty is not always indicative of 
vast assimilative power. All that a forest floor 
stands for is not realized in a moment. It 
should stimulate thought rather than please the 
eye; but this is too prosaic a view for the on- 
rushing sightseer — seldom a seer in any other 
sense. However, if variety must be had, here 
it is in the damp earth, where the waters of a 
struggling spring have vainly tried to form a 

236 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

little pool. There are not a dozen drops of open 
water, but dampness only, yet it is worthy the 
rambler's closest attention. It means a few 
ferns, by way of variety, and, though small, 
they have been pretty and are attractive still. 
They have a leathery feel, and the vigor of early 
May has departed, but they are ferns and all 
that these growths signify. If we truly love a 
plant, even its picture will command attention. 
Here are only faded, leathery ferns, but who has 
yet to learn that beneath a wrinkled skin there 
is abundance of life? Too pronounced fresh- 
ness is occasionally open to adverse criticism. 

Given vegetation, moisture and alternate 
light and shade, animal life without stint will 
crowd the spot. The dry moss seemed deserted 
as I looked over it. A lazy spider, shining coal 
black ants and inert beetles were all that I could 
find in the way of animal life, but about the 
ferns and in the moist earth were many and 
widely varied forms. A frog, a salamander 
and a baby turtle had gathered here, and a chat- 
tering bluejay directly overhead seemed to be 
scolding because I kept it from coming to drink; 
A less cautious chickadee came quite within my 
reach and a squirrel scampered by, barking 

237 



The Rambles of an Idler 



spitefully. I had trespassed upon the common 
domain of the wild life of the woods, and was 
reminded that man is never one with the crea- 
tures whose company he would keep. This 
common domain was a damp spot only, yet 
treasured by the creatures that here slaked 
their thirst. How they found enough water to 
drink I cannot imagine. So far as I could de- 
termine, here was dampness merely; but, then, 
I see only with my own eyes, which doubtless 
would be thought a pitifully poor way of ob- 
serving Nature by every beast, bird and creep- 
ing thing that lives in, on and above this forest 
floor. 

If it were possible to follow the same path, 
at the same time of day and tarry for a few 
hours at the same spot ; if this were possible for 
a year, in shade and sunshine, under clear skies 
and cloudy, summer and winter, then and then 
only would we have a clear conception of what 
a trifling bit of commonplace country really 
is. Then, I believe, the comedy and tragedy of 
each day as it passes, might be recorded as it 
should, clarity of thought following contact with 
Nature, 

238 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

To take the same walk daily is not a monot- 
onous, dull round as when we hurry from house 
to office and return. We need but to try to 
prove this, as when I took the same path for 
five successive days in early spring. In the 
brook I saw minnows with gorgeously tinted 
fins, and their brilliant color brightened the 
outlook whichever way I turned. 

Where swarms of minnows show their little heads 

Staying their waving bodies 'gainst the streams, 

To taste the luxury of sunny beams 

Tempered with coolness. How they ever wrestle 

With their own sweet delight, and ever nestle 

Their silver bellies on the pebbly sand I 

If you but scantily hold out the hand, 

That very instant one will not remain; 

But turn your eye — and they are there again.' 

See them as Keats here describes ; this needs 
no cunning of a trained eye and the subsequent 
vexations of the day will be softened to a more 
endurable degree. 

The second day, the bridge pee-wee was 
perched upon a bare branch of a horn-beam ov- 
erhanging the brook and its simple song called 
back a teeming past as well as foretold the 
wealth of a coming summer. Other birds 

239 



The Rambles of an Idler 



proved near, early violets starred the frosty 
earth, but during all that followed, the pee-wee 
of that early morning hour was not forgotten. 

The third day, a weasel stood upright in my 
path, stared fiercely at me and then disap- 
peared. I looked in vain for its hiding-place or 
for some evidence of what it had been doing 
where I saw it. As well attempt to trace the 
lightning after the flash has vanished; yet I 
could for the time think of noihing but the 
creature of which I had only a glimpse and re- 
call every petty adventure in past years 
wherein a weasel figured. Even the chirping of 
birds had an animal-like squeal and imagina- 
tion came near getting the upper hand for a lit- 
tle while. It was by no means strange that 
the only few wild animals we have left were in 
my thoughts, while I looked across the wide 
marsh, where I knew were minks, musk-rats 
and meadow-mice. A trifle may change the 
current of our thoughts for a whole day. 

The fourth day, the earliest green leaves and 
swelling buds and golden spice-wood bloom 
commanded my attention and I thought of the 
long winter when the trees were bare and how 
the cheerless outlook depressed at times and 

240 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

moved me to turn away until the brj^ve crested 
tit called me to my senses. It would be better 
for us, could the fact always be remembered 
that there is no better medicine for winter- 
weariness thaa the trifling green of an early 
April day. 

The fifth morning, I found a dew-spangled 
spider web, so substantially woven that it dis- 
tinctly resisted my finger as I pressed against 
it. It was a large, apron-like platform gently 
leading to the spider's den and the creature 
herself, though in full view, was very incon- 
spicuous. Her neutral tints blended with the 
surroundings in most skillful way, her legs ap- 
pearing to be so many bits of dead grass, and 
her body, a withered leaf. The web glittered 
in the sun, for countless minute dew-drops were 
scattered over it. Evidently the spider was 
still waiting for her breakfast or there would 
have been evidence of commotion. Insect life, 
evidently, must be active again, yet I had not 
noticed any fly or beetle. This web, beautiful 
in itself, was not forgotten all that day. Until 
the goal was reached, it held my thoughts, as 
when flies struggle hopelessly in its mazy toils. 

Almost a month passed before I was again 
241 



The Bambles of an Idler 



that way. The chain of events had not been 
broken, but of the thirty links of that month, I 
had only five. Enough to show how much I 
had lost, if nothing more. But five days afield 
ought to prove something more than the record 
of so many trivial facts. What of their signif- 
icance? It is a sorry ending of a ramble if 
we can recall only the fact that we were out of 
doors. All the meaning of an occurrence is not 
apparent at the moment it took place. Usually 
but little of it is realized. The incentive to 
seek adventure is the subsequent conversion of 
the event into subject matter for thought Only 
thus is Nature made dear and man methodical. 
The impression of a fact is of as much value 
as the fact itself, and it is not enough merely 
to state it. Facts need something stronger 
than a bold statement to make them clear to 
another, A fact, without an opinion, will call 
for no opinion on the recipient's part. It is 
ever the narrator's attitude towards the fact 
that stimulates a reader and leads him to put 
himself in the author's place. Were this never 
true, a book about Nature would be a waste of 
ink and paper. It is true, we are not concerned 
with the merchant so much as with the quality 

242 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

of his wares, but the wares of an author are 
not so separable. The author makes or un- 
makes the facts he gathers. Freed from his at- 
titude towards them, from his enthusiasm and 
impressions, they remain as nuggets of gold 
awaiting the artist's skill to give them come- 
liness. Eliminate the personal equation and 
Nature in a- book is paralleled by Nature in a 
museum. Specimen facts are very like speci- 
men stuffed-birds or minerals in a case. 

Pope, in his earliest version of the Essay on 
Man, has the line: 

A mighty maze of walks without a plan. 

That is what the earth is apt to be, but the 
fault is our own. Walking without the art of 
walking is much like a corpse as compared to 
a living body. Whether mechanical or not, is 
the question, and if not mechanical, but spiritual 
to the extent of discerning the purpose of that 
which is seen, then we do not walk in vain. 

To enshroud in mystery is often but to wrap 
yourself in ignorance. Call a thing mysterious 
and there is no incentive to investigate its true 
character. It is the common way of excusing 

243 



The Rambles of an Idler 



lazines We 3o not feel called upon to solve 
knotty problems or to attempt the impossible, as 
so much becomes when we deepen the mystery 
that surrounds the outlook. It never occurs to 
us that all this is but a process of our own mind. 
We ascribe to Nature what does not belong to 
her and simply render ourselves more and more 
helpless as we stand gazing vacantly at what 
transpires before us. The ascription of mys- 
tery is a cunning device of lazy humanity. 

The sense of ownership is a pleasant one ; the 
impression of the superiority of our posses- 
sions is not belittling. It is fortunate that the 
even greater luxuriance of your neighbor's 
fields is not apparent to you, for where envy 
enters, peace of mind departs. Only feel that 
you are particularly blessed and it is a fact 
that you are reasonably fortunate. In short, 
treasure your trifles as though they were unique 
gems, for it is only through such intensity of 
interest that positive value becomes apparent. 
Distance should not always be allowed to lend 
enchantment to the view. The battle of the 
ants that Thoreau witnessed was as tragical as 
any massacre of innocents or any war between 

244 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

nations, and occurring near home, of more im- . 
portance. I have never found the world empty 
where the traveller remarked contemptuously 
that all was tame. Per contra, some of the 
most superficial people I have ever met have 
been the farthest travelled. They had never 
seen the real countries they had crossed- Their 
desert of Sahara and my sand-dune in the field 
comer differed only in size. The real differ- 
ence they never suspected. 

As I walked by the creek-side this morning I 
saw a pike dart like lightning from the lily pads 
and I knew there was one minnow less in the lit- 
tle school wandering up stream. Looking 
across the meadow, I saw a hawk carrying off 
a mouse, and later, in the dusty wood-road, met 
with a wasp that dragged along a huge worm, 
many times larger than itself. I looked in vain 
for the comic side of Nature hereabouts. All 
was serious, and to keep light-hearted I had to 
overlook the actual conditions. I could have 
witnessed tragedy all day and even been a par- 
ticipant in more than one fray, had I chosen. 
It may be very tame here at home, but disturb 
a nest of yellow-jackets and there is excitement 

245 



The Rambles of an Idler 



and danger equal to facing the average wild 
beast. I do not underrate the desirability of 
travel or of adventure in some far-off land, but 
while content at home have no longing for wan- 
dering beyond nightly reach of my den. Let 
the Antipodians glory in their Antipodes. 
Some trifling bits of wildness are all I have, but 
while I have them, let me believe they are still 
genuinely wild and the old oaks not yet deserted 
by the good god, Pan. 

Expectation, based upon hearsay, has usually 
a sad ending. Fancy has only un-real colors on 
her palette and paints a livelier rainbow than 
Nature allows. So, it is well to curb our en- 
thusiasm when recounting our experience, lest 
our friend think we have found a real diamond 
which, in truth, is but paste. But, if we disap- 
points others, as surely others disappoint us 
and the honors are easy. I have been induced 
to travel far to see that which failed to interest 
me and have brought others to some out of the 
way nook in which I delighted, only to vex them 
sorely over their loss of time. It is far better 
to keep your discoveries to yourself and save 
being laughed at for retaining a child's enthu- 

246 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

siasm over little nothings. It has taken some 
time to be convinced of this, but now I am firm 
in the belief; and because the world at large 
cares nothing for some meadow ditch or name- 
less upland brook, I do not propose to abate one 
jot my enthusiasm for what I find, even here 
where nobody comes and all is tame. 

Over the range of my rambles I found the 
marks of the coming and going of destructive 
men for more than two centuries, until almost 
nothing was left, as Nature would have it. 
Then, the place was forsaken of men, and while 
their backs were turned. Nature repaired the 
mischief and beckoned to me to come on. 
Strange to relate, there seems to be a good 
deal to occupy one where the traveller had pro- 
claimed that all was tame. Where bigness only 
counts, we are more apt to be excited than sat- 
isfied. Fever heat is exhausting, not exhilarat- 
ing and the re-action to commonplace condi- 
tions too great a change: it proves a shock. 
We do not need the element of danger or in- 
tense excitement to make life enjoyable. As 
well claim the necessity of alcohol to aid diges- 
tion. The acorn still sprouts in the way it 
always did and not a minnow in the brook but 

247 



The Bambles of an Idler 



swims according to the mles laid down for the 
huge fishes of the sea. We may drive off all 
our bears, but there will be a raccoon in some 
hollow tree. Beavers are long gone, but there 
is the musk-rat. There never was a neighbor- 
hood that did not contain one real, live hunter 
who could make his living. The later, cheaper 
edition tells the same storv as the first, with its 
abundant, full-page illustrations. Even here, 
where all is tame, there are mud and water and 
weeds just as Indians found them when they 
wandered about, and such as the Dutch and the 
Swedes and the English saw when they went up 
into the land and took possession thereof. 
Here, I regret, even from my own point of view, 
all is tame, but compare it with brick pave- 
ments. 

If all is tame in a long settled country, please 
always to remember it is even tamer when peo- 
ple are about. Visit a trim woods when noisy 
with a picnic and go afterwards alone to the 
same place and you will know what I mean. A 
tree, a bird and a cloud-flecked sky to yourself 
half-way meets with your demand for wildness, 
but you will never find a trace of it even in 
the country, remote from town when a bab- 

248 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

ble of men's voices drowns the babble of a 
brook. 

Where all is not tame, the wildness is too pro- 
nounced to conceal itself; but here, where all 
is apparently shorn of its savage or natural 
state, the greater tax upon our cunning to dis- 
cover the little that is left. The plowshare 
never invades the very edge of the brook's bank, 
so there is a little strip of earth that is left in 
peace and the water that ripples by the sunken 
root of an old tree, runs in the same twisted 
channel as water found perhaps several cen- 
turies ago. Here then is a chance for profitable 
idling. Turn a little brook inside out and you 
have built a museum. Surely, sufficient unto 
each day is the wildness thereof. 

As the sun was setting yesterday, the sand at 
the water's edge was as smooth as the paper 
upon which I am now writing. There was not 
a line or a dot upon it. Now, twelve hours 
later, it is covered with foot-prints of several 
kinds and yet we speak of this spot as one 
where all is tame. It would puzzle the most 
practical hunter to trace back to its lair each of 
the creatures that came here in the night and it 

249 



The Rambles of an Idler 



would have been excitement, instruction and 
keen pleasure enough to have witnessed what so 
lately happened at this most commonplace 
spot. Go to distant lands, if you will, to outwit 
great beasts, but all the while a young rat un- 
der your door-step, is outwitting you. Adven- 
ture is at its best when human and brute wit 
have a battle royal. Bullets and bigness may 
prove very tame — ^mere butchery generally, for 
hunter and game are seldom equally matched; 
but armed only with dexterity and such other 
gifts as Nature has vouchsafed you, try your 
hand at capturing a chipmunk as it darts along 
an old rail fence, and the chances are, if you 
are candid, that you will entertain some whole- 
some thoughts before the adventure is over. 

Lead your coveted game into a trap and you 
have cause for gratulation, but look out that you 
are not led into one. I have never seen greener 
grass than that mantling a quick-sand. 

My interest is ever aroused by foot-prints, 
especially such as crowd every little mud-bank, 
like the one about which I so often linger, and 
have lingered, these many years, yet have riot 
learned all they have to tell. Foot-prints are 

250 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

as suggestive of poetry as the transient thrush 
is of a summer song; yet we are apt to pass 
them hy as mere chance markings of the im- 
pressionable soil, and proceed in thought to 
other and less weighty matters. Let us give 
over for the present contemplation of ^* foot- 
prints in the sands of Time" and consider those 
in a narrow strip of mud. To decipher them, 
is no easy task. The hunter may know the 
tracks of the game he seeks but here have 
passed small deer quite beneath his notice; and 
let it ever be borne in mind by him who loves 
an outing that where everything is tame, the 
interest decreases with the size of the foot- 
prints. Persecuted game and persecuting gun- 
ners are alike unattractive. The one has lost 
through fear all its naturalness, the other his 
better elements of humanity, so we will dismiss 
them for the present. 

The foot-prints before me now are in such be- 
wildering confusion that to report them all is 
impossible, but here is the impress of a large 
turtle's foot and clearly a tail mark besides. 
Crossing its trail, a meadow mouse has hurried 
by. Beyond, a little way, a small snake has 
crawled ashore and in its course, partly rubbed 

251 



The Rambles of an Idler 



out the footprints of a spotted sand-piper. The 
green heron and purple grakles have been here 
and little curved lines, diminutive crescents in 
orderly array of pairs, suggest that a mud-min- 
now rested at this place on its fins, before the 
tide ran out. Still smaller markings are a mat- 
ter of doubt, but many aquatic bugs and spiders 
run lightly over the shining mud and leave faint 
traces of their wanderings. At least one frog 
has been squatting here and left a body print, 
and if I had not seen that a shapeless depres- 
sion was made by a grasshopper while still 
floundering in the mud, it would have puzzled 
the most clever paleontologist to decipher it, 
had it been fossilized. Five or six representa- 
tives of the great divisions of life have passed 
to and fro in the night, and now, not long after, 
I see but a single sparrow, hear a crow in the 
distance, and observe no other evidence of ani- 
mal life. Here, truly, not only is all tame, but 
almost lifeless, judging from the present out- 
look; but what a different story is told by the 
footprints in the mud, the narrow strip of bare 
earth hemming in a little meadow brook. 

Having taken the initial step of determining 
what forms of life have been here, there is an- 

252 



Under the Oaks and Elsewhere 

other to be taken, but with extreme caution. 
This is, to determine the purpose of the crea- 
tures that have passed to and fro. Usually, 
there is nothing to guide us in this investiga- 
tion, for if any struggle has occurred, the mud 
is simply so beaten down that all traces of what 
really happened are destroyed. We pass from 
the acquirement of a fact to the realm of con- 
jecture, yet we know tragedy is constantly oc- 
curring. It is the search for food that prompts 
an animal to move from point to point, and why 
we see so little evidence of struggle is because 
each creature knows its enemies and is ever on 
the alert to escape. To kill and not be killed is 
the burden of the single song sung by all crea- 
tion. 

Probably tragedy is writ large wherever 
there is great confusion of footprints, but occa- 
sionally there is a hint at comedy. Play, as 
we see it in children, is common to other than 
human life. Why should not meadow mice 
dance by the light of the moon? Chipmunks 
play *Hag" and blue-jays are graceful in a 
minuet. 



253 



CHAPTER SEVEN 



rBOM PILLAB TO P06T 



The strange fancy for saints' days! He or 
she is a poor saint who is not entitled to all the 
year, and, if really worthy of remembrance, to 
be held in admiration at all seasons. I know 
not whether any saint is pecnliarly honored to- 
day or not My calendar, with its trifle of ad- 
vice, says May 9th, and suggests going out of 
doors. 

I note, while standing by the door-yard elm, 
that the warbling rose-breast, from his lofty 
perch, tells the whole story of this month of 
May. Ttere are few men that do not need an 
exemplar and I am thankful not to be an excep- 
tion. This paragon of song-birds gives me the 
hint All I need to be happy is to whistle as I 
go. Not to disturb the silence by blowing 
through pursed lips, but letting the heart beat 
to a merry tune. Many can please themselves 
and not vex others, by thinking their music As 

254 



From Pillar to Post 



I walk, the wild birds shall be my spokesmen. 
Never a saint lived that equals them. 

There is an exasperating clique in the world 
that delights in telling you to laugh at ill-luck 
and continue trying. Close inspection of their 
own careers usually shows that they have had 
no ill-luck worth mentioning, and, worse yet, 
have accomplished next to nothing, but set up 
an appearance of grand success by the aid of 
gold that they did not earn. He who is heaviest 
gilt is ever readiest to give advice. 

What is called '411-luck** is the insurmount- 
able wall that confronts us when we start in 
life in the wrong direction. Success or good 
luck is wholly due to facing right at the outset. 
How to discover the proper direction in the be- 
ginning of a career is the most valuable knowl- 
edge the world can possess, and, it may be 
added, regretfully, does not possess. It would 
do away with unhappiness, would open the eyes 
to every quicksand, and there would be not an 
obstacle in a path unprovided for before it was 
reached. There would be an end to preaching; 
life's complexity would become simplicity; 
there would be a new world, that ideal one 

255 



The Rambles of an Idler 



which has figured in philosophic heads but never 
materialized^ and probably never will. Why, 
then, not take this earth as we find it, as the 
birds are doing this splendid morning, and be- 
lieve that life is labor, fortune fickle, and noth- 
ing worse can follow when our round of days 
is at its end? This is a comforting thought, and 
if it had only occurred to remote ancestors, a 
little nearer Elysium would be our present-day 
condition. 

**The virtue of adversity is fortitude, '* said 
Bacon ; but who wants to be brave on an empty 
stomach f Adversity robs life of its sweetness, 
its juiciness; it converts it into the squeezed 
rind of a lemon and, when thus reduced, why 
should it put on an air of consequence and 
exhibit fortitude? Does this ** virtue '* smooth 
the wrinkled skin, fill the veins again with sap, 
make the body comely in appearance and some- 
thing again to be desired? Not a bit of it. It 
merely keeps the coals of consciousness alive so 
that they accentuate misery and prolong an 
undesirable existence. If life is constant battle, 
as some one has said, it is certainly not worth 
living. 

256 



From Pillar to Post 



I find, where I walk, a rusty pan among the 
dead leaves and a vesper mouse has made a 
snug home of it. It suggests that the art of 
much comfort from little is better than sup- 
posititious ease from much. He really does not 
enjoy Nature who demands it in excess, and 
must have oceans and mountains, and spurns 
the modest hills and wood-girt ponds that are 
round about him. 

When the tide turns, as it so surely will, what 
a sorry spectacle presents itself! We are hope- 
lessly miserable because our riches have taken 
to flight; for the time, priding ourselves upon 
our independence, but proving sadly dependent 
after all. Nothing of all this is seen here on 
this hillside. The blue sky and snow-white 
clouds are emblems of peace. The fresh green 
leaves are even merry, as the sunlight seeks 
them out. They flutter, not in fear, but with 
delight, and what a hymning of Nature's maj- 
esty when thrush and oriole, robin and bobo- 
link, give way to the joy within them, and every 
breeze is laden alike with music and the breath 
of flowers. It is well not to be envious, but 
other forms of life have much to commend 
them. 

257 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I have known those who had the merit of 
being great in their littleness. What they did, 
they did well. A community made np of such 
men is as useful as congregated geniuses. Any 
one of these may set a complicated work in 
motion, but earnest, though less gifted, men are 
needed to keep it from going astray or stopping 
for want of trivial attentions. Because there is 
nothing extraordinary about the most of us is 
no reason for thinking little of ourselves, and, 
above all, for being envious of those who have 
accomplished wonders. That place is honorable 
always, the outcome of which is the result of 
honest endeavor. The fruit of effort in a small 
way is not always small. Tender vines bring 
forth big pumpkins. 

Men are to be judged not alone by the com- 
pany they keep. There are other evidences of 
whether a man is as Nature proposed or as 
misguided artificiality makes him. Take a look 
into the house in which he lives. I have always 
thought that the inconsequential carelessness of 
trifles out of place give a home-like appearance 
to a human habitation that spick-and-span or- 
der can never do. The healthy man lives not 

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as if merely a machine ; so why should his place 
of abode look like a museum with its treasures 
in fixed and unvarying positions? As the pinch 
of salt at a feast, so a dash of carelessness adds 
to the piquancy of a life. 

Universality of assent is not evidence of 
truth. Once upon a time it was universally 
conceded that the earth was flat. So, to-day, we 
have it dinned into our ears that woe betides 
the hindmost in the race, and to be up and doing 
is the paramount evidence of excellence and the 
only way of making reward a certainty. Start 
men on the subject and their speech runs into 
sermons, lectures and dire prediction. It is all 
very discouraging. The idea of rational enjoy- 
ment must be postponed until we are overbur- 
dened with acquisitions and our proper selves 
stiff-jointed and dried until there is no response 
to the invitation of Nature to be, not up and 
doing, but out and enjoying. Youth is too often 
a vaguely remembered dream before manhood 
has had time to assume authority. To-day the 
single aim of life is to get: no longer is it the 
art of living. 

Hare and tortoise: an old story, but never 
259 



The Rambles of an Idler 



outgrown. It is more applicable to-day than 
when jEsop told it. It happens that an occa- 
sional hare reaches the goal, but everywhere lie 
the rotting carcasses of failure. The plodding 
tortoise picks his way over them. 

A great city is a necessity, and so, too, are 
the great guns in a fort. Neither are to be 
played with. The village need not hide its face 
because, once a day, the stage-coach still stops 
at the post-ofl5ce. Yet a little farther : the farm 
need not be jealous of the village. Its individ- 
uality rests on a broader base. He is as much 
a success in the better meaning of the word who 
tills his fields as is the master of a town lot. It 
is true many a man is but a speck on his farm 
and the least missed of all objects when he 
leaves it ; but the farm is not at fault. Nature 
turns us out in the rough and it rests with our- 
selves how we are finished. There is no divinity 
except in ourselves to shape our ends. The 
field and wood and meadow can overwhelm us 
or we can tap the well-head of their secrets and 
be crowned their master. The chances are in 
our favor. Nature is not jealous of our efforts. 
At times she looks kindly upon them. In the 

260 



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country we have freedom to work our will. 
Who can say as much of city-life t 

It is a matter of taste whether we choose the 
city or the country, and happily we are free to 
choose; but why the city assumes superiority 
and presumes to dictate is a problem yet un- 
solved. 

This is a perfect afternoon. The earth rests 
content with what has been accomplished, and 
the rank growths that for months struggled to 
conceal the scarred meadows have succeeded, 
and now rest, crowned with purple and gold. 
There are the vervain, dodder, scarlet lobelia, 
eupatorium, mallow, cone flower, sunflower, 
bidens and sneeze weed, an almost endless • 
series of stately blooms that now give dignity 
to the matured season, yet not one awes the 
myriad forms of life that here find their home J 
for since the glacial floods retired and the 
blessed sunshine warmed the turf, there has 
been an endless struggle between plants, as well 
as animals, to maintain a roothold and a foot^ 
hold here. This beautiful meadow is one of 
Nature's garden spots, and this is a perfect 
afternoon. 

261 



The Rambles of an Idler 



Nature does not demand silent adoration. 
Grand as is the outlook in all respects, no crea- 
ture is awed to the point of silence, nor is there 
blank astonishment because of the magnificence. 
It is no transient phenomenon. The greater the 
brilliancy of a sunset sky the more quickly it 
fades; but here is equally lavish display of 
color, which is not evanescent. It is here to be 
enjoyed, and stays long enough to color our 
thoughts, to teach us, if we are willing to be 
taught. 

From every foot of ground rises that rhyth- 
mic stridulation of the mole-crickets, which, 
heard from all sides, is as the meadows breath- 
ing. I look to see if the sod does not rise and 
fall as the pulsing sound swells loudly or almost 
dies away. 

Difficult as it is to define and hopeless to de- 
scribe adequately, an unmistakable presence 
pervades the meadows now. This vast sheet of 
color and accompanying volume of sound unite 
to exert a controlling influence over all life with- 
in its bounds. We, too, feel this influence, if in 
a proper frame of mind. 

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The crow wanders from the leafy wilderness 
of the tree-tops, circling in mid-air as if without 
a purpose, and only hurries away when vicious- 
ly attacked by a king bird. The redwings, that 
have recently gathered, come from many an 
upland swamp, leisurely seeking the tide- 
washed marsh, and exert themselves no more 
than feeding calls for. The uncertain robins 
still question whether it is time to give up their 
summer habits, but finally unite their forces, 
and, as an ill-formed troop, go bungling along 
over hill and dale. The bobolink of springtide 
days is here again, but, in the sober guise of a 
reed bird, utters only a single note, not so much 
an eloquent lament on the passing of summer 
as it is a voicing of August's meditative days. 
I know it, above many another, as a bird-note 
that leads to retrospection on my part; sober, 
sad retrospection formerly, but not so now. I 
no longer wish that summer lasted through all 
the months. I follow now the example set by 
the blue birds that throng the air. Whatever 
the time of year theirs is a hopeful song. A 
change continuous from grave to gay, but no 
such dark foreboding as from life to death. 
August now, and nearing the end of summer, 

263 



The Rambles of an Idler 



but neither the month nor the season calls for 
a fmieral hymn. It is only wise to say ^^Qood- 
bye/' expecting a qnick return. With the eye 
of faith we can detect a ray of light in all the 
thick darkness we meet. Looking backward, it 
was but yesterday that it was August, as it now 
is, and why, looking forward, should it be a 
longer time before it comes again? This is a 
perfect afternoon, and if the last of such for 
the passing season, it is not a long waiting, and 
never an idle, objectless one until August comes 
again. Nature is a long series of events crowd- 
ing each other, not as single beads on an inter- 
minably long string. A perfect afternoon, typi- 
cal August, with activity everywhere, but not 
that nervous hurrying to and fro of early sum- 
mer. Leisured activity, rather; the studied 
movement of age, not the rash impetuosity of 
youth. We see, in June, more than we can com- 
prehend. In August we comprehend more than 
we actually see. Facts so crowded we fail to 
detect their significance, in early summer; sig- 
nificance and fewer facts, now. June — August. 
It is and it has been. June, the present; Au- 
gust, the past tense of summer. Recall the sea- 
son in mid-winter and see how true this is. 

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Had we never heard the songs of birds in 
May, songs anticipating the triumph of love, 
or listened to the songs of June, the grand 
chorus of love triumphant, we should find no 
lack of merit in the quiet melodies of an August 
afternoon; but Memory holds us to the past 
with the grip of an iron hand. We hear, but 
not without keen recollection, of an earlier 
song. This is sobering, but not to the point of 
sadness. We are not cast down, but walk at a 
slower gait. We contrast all we see and hear 
with all seen and heard. It may not be what 
we wish, but there is no escape. 

The meadows this afternoon were less of the 
earth, earthy, than usual. It was dreamland 
rather, and, walking thereon, I was less a ram- 
bler than a dreamer, and as such I reached the 
wooded slope that hems in the meadows. The 
shade was refreshing, but not so the absolute 
silence. Not even a leaf on the aspens trem- 
bled. The oaks and the beeches were motion- 
less, fixed as the very earth itself. I became 
impatient. Ijife was very real again. The 
heavy hand of sober August thoughts was too 
hard to be borne, and to see a bright red leaf 

265 



The Rambles of an Idler 



of a gum tree falling slowly to the ground was 
a relief. Was it the signal for a coming 
change, I wondered? Whether that or not, 
straightway I heard the sharp chirping of a 
thrush. 

It was not the lively note of early summer, a 
response to its mate or a warning cry to its 
nestlings, but a fretful, labored attempt to give 
utterance to disquieting thoughts. This chirp 
at other times is the prelude to a song, but 
would it prove so to-day t I listened long 
enough to become thoroughly doubtful and im- 
patient. The influence of August does not quite 
subdue the ''old Adam'' that is in us. I could 
have thrown a stone at that irritating thrush. 
Even its chirp was but illy uttered more than 
once, but then after a suggestive pause I heard 
a few sweet notes. 

How quickly came a vision of June days! 
Sunrise, when all the world was merry at the 
thought of day ; sunset, when all the world was 
glad to rest from the long hours of merriment 
gone mad. A few sweet notes only, and I was 
young again. Now would come once more the 

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whole-souled summer song, I was certain, and 
listened eagerly, peering into the thicket before 
me. But no, there were but those few notes; 
not loud, not exuberant, but full of depressing 
suggestion. Summer was past, as the thrush 
saw the world about it. The bird knew full well 
the meaning of that colored leaf, of the wilder- 
ness of yellow bloom that canopied the brook, 
of the purple veil thrown over half the waste- 
land. It felt, too, the trifling trace of chill that 
came with the evening breeze. The happy days 
were over. If it sang at all, it would be to drive 
away dull care; whistling to keep up its cour- 
age until it, too, left its home and all the happi- 
ness of a short-lived summer. 

Farewell, the greenwood tree, 

This shady dell; 
This home, so dear to me, 

Farewell, farewell. 

Then, briefly, the thrush was roused by its 
thoughts to a somewhat livelier mood, and the 
song of June was sung as in other days ; yet 
not quite the same. I could not be deaf to a 
trace of sadness running through it all. There 
was now left no fresh, green leaf, nor even one 

267 



The Rambles of an Idler 



glittering dew-drop, nor violet on the still 
green, sunny slope; why should the bird re- 
joice? The song shortened to a few brief notes, 
a meditative strain eloquent with thoughts of 
happier days. Then, silence. I had heard the 
thrush's last song. 

I am always active when there is work to do : 
I run away from it; yet it is intimated that I 
am lazy. Not only is this activity on my part, 
but it is speedy. Not unwise haste, either. I 
protest against being adversely criticized. 

Long ago I gave up serious undertakings. 
When I was through, as I supposed, I always 
found there was something yet to do. There 
was no exception, and I did not propose to bat- 
tle with a law of Nature. I resigned activity of 
my own initiative and ever since have been an 
advocate of ease. 

We contemplate the ideals that unwittingly 
arise in our minds. I think no one says to him- 
self, *'I will be a model,** but, *'I will model 
myself after'* — such an one. It is so much 
easier to follow than to lead. It taxes both 
mind and body less. Whom I copy is nothing 
to others, but I do copy. He was nothing if 

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not original, I thought. I know better now. 
He was but the fruit of obsenration and read- 
ing, as was everybody before him and since. 
Adam copied the animals and learned many a 
lesson from the trees ; otherwise he would have 
proved a flat failure. Absolute originality is 
only an ideal. I follow in footsteps that pressed 
the sod a century ago, an.d sometimes, as my 
reward, fancy I echo him who has been gone 
so long. I find myself stopping, looking wise 
and feeling really happy, as though perchance 
I had a worthy thought. 

It is not altogether true that, being finite, we 
can have no conception of the infinite. It is 
readily understandable that there is no limit 
to space. There may be a limit to the number 
of celestial bodies, but no boundary to the space 
they occupy. Of whatever point some one 
should say, **This is the limit of space, *' there, 
it must be admitted, is an outside as well as an 
inside of the boundary. In human affairs it is 
the same story on a ridiculously small scale; 
everywhere stand the suggestive outposts 
marking what is before, not what is behind, 
them, 

269 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I love to live on these outermost bounds of 
habitable earth. The interior everywhere soon 
grows commonplace^ but there is freshness and 
novelty as we wander from the centre to the 
circumference. There is more to see. People 
are all well enough in their way, but, as a strug- 
gling crowd of strangers in a town, the most 
tiresome objects in the world; while life, as I 
view it, is comfortably near to Nature at the 
outposts. We can see farther ahead, there, 
than we dare venture, but the desire to explore, 
ever uppermost, has chance for exercise. So, 
to-day, had I been in town, I would have heard 
the street-cars rattle ; as it was, out of it, at an 
outpost, for the town can be seen by looking 
backwards, I have Bob White whistling at my 
elbow, and thrushes, finches and warblers all 
a-tune, with the twittering swallows to fill in 
the chinks when bird-song fails. 

*'In this pleasing . . . wood-life . . . 
let me record day by day my honest thought 
without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot 
doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I 
mean it not and see it not. My book should 
smell of pines and resound with the hum of 

270 



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insects.'* It is never safe to quote Emerson. 
All that follows suffers so much. Too like a 
jewel that has fallen into the mud; but, pre- 
sumptuous as it may seem, I had thought his 
thought and crudely set it down before I had 
met it in ** Self -Reliance. ** 

How is one's book to be made to smell of 
pines t No treatise on literature sets forth the 
secret. I know that years ago I sent an essay 
on a brook to an editor and he suggested that I 
must have seen a brook after a protracted 
dirought, for what I said of it was dry as dust. 
I have no exalted opinion of editorial omnisci- 
ence, but probably in this case he was right. A 
swom-off, bibulous husband took a glass of beer 
now and then, during his wife's absence, but the 
secret indulgence was discovered. She smelt it 
in the ink, when he wrote her a letter. We are 
too sober when we record what we have seen 
and heard. The intoxication of the passing 
moment should be riotous within us when we 
record not what we have witnessed but what we 
are now seeing; our eyes not on the paper, but 
the object. Let the pen or pencil take care of 
itself, and if held by the fingers of genuine 
merit, they will do so. The eye and the ear 

271 



The Bambles of an Idler 



have 80 much that is spiritual to concern them, 
the mechanical device of writing should not en- 
croach upon their time when out of doors. Let 
the fingers limp over the note-book as best they 
can. Time enough later to interpret your hiero- 
glyphics. In such a way, perhaps, a tree-smell- 
ing book can be made. Memory is treacherous. 
She can plan our discomfiture in short order. 

If we cannot bring back the dead, we can re- 
call the past, even a past of which we pre- 
viously had never heard. Here I stand on the 
slope of gently rising ground, looking up and 
down a valley of incomparable grace. Below 
me, only a short distance off, ripples a little 
brook. The shallow water spreads like a sheet 
of glass over a floor of pebbles. It is a live 
brook, and to-day sings the pretty song it sang 
two hundred years ago ; sings it to me as it did 
to the Indians for centuries. The mellow sun- 
shine and October's scarlet leaves do the best 
they can to hide the ugly scars that come from 
man's assault upon Nature, for this valley of 
to-day was yesterday a prosaic mill-pond. Ill- 
luck for its owner, but good luck for me, that 
the dam is gone and the blessed sun again sees 

272 



From Pillar to Post 



earth which for two centuries has been 
drowned. The corpse cannot be revivified, but 
Nature does what she can. The sun dries the 
sodden mass of mud ; the autumn leaves clothe 
its nakedness. And so it is, I can stand where 
my forbears stood in the dawn of colonial days 
and see what they saw. The dead are still 
dead, but the dead p^t returns to me. 

Who shall say when the waters of this little 
brook began to babble? This small stream, hid- 
den by trees that no man ever saw, may have 
been seeking an outlet to the river, when life 
that long since outgrew its usefulness wandered 
along it and slaked its thirst in silent, unsunned 
pools. Nature can take us by the hand and lead 
us backward as well as forward, if she will, and 
so she did, to-day. I saw this trifling wrinkle 
in the world's face, a wooded valley, tortuous, 
long and deep, and as Nature would have it, 
save the mud-plastered stretch that should have 
been green. Man's necessities work havoc with 
Nature's purposes. She accepts the change for 
a time, but occasionally shows her resentment, 
as when the storm washed away the dam. She 
had accepted it here and the pond was very 
pretty, but I could never forget that it was a 

273 



The Rambles of an Idler 



pond. It contradicted the outlook, as if water 
was running uphill. **How pretty !'' exclaims 
the casual passer-by. How grand the valley 
with its brook, is my impression. A slab of 
polished wood is very attractive, I admit, but I 
love better the tree as it stands. I have a few 
friends, and trust I appreciate them; but I 
should not care to have a piece of one of them, 
however skillfully preserved, standing about as 
bric-a-brac. A submerged section of a valley 
is not to be preferred to the handiwork of Na- 
ture. What Nature herself submerges is beau- 
tiful and fitting, but mill-ponds and Nature are 
ever at war, and I march, as a private, in the 
latter 's company. 

The empty mill-pond sets one to thinking. It 
would do so, whatever the conditions of the day, 
but now it is superb Indian summer and a col- 
ored landscape is more intoxicating than one 
uniformly green. Not all browns are dingy and 
suggestive of decay. Now, there is no dull pro- 
cession of sober thought, no serious occupation 
with lifers imperious problems, but all is merri- 
ment, laughter, song. The sun shines on us 
with approving smile ; there is invigorating, not 
depressing, warmth, and wandering warblers 

274 



From Pillar to Post 



seeking the Southern woods, tarry in a con- 
tented way as if the goal of their journey had 
been reached. No leaf, to-day, falls like a clod, 
but floats like a fairy in the golden air and 
touches earth at last, so lightly, that we look 
for it to rise again and seek its one-time sum- 
mer home in the tree-top. Nature herself is a 
poet beyond compare these dreamy days. Why 
should I call to mind any of lifers realities? 
The grinning crew are awaiting me when I face 
the world again, while here is not the world but 
the valley of a dead past, and I can walk and 
think of what I will, even to imagining myself 
an English settler, a subject of Queen Anne; — 
anything at all but the plagues of my existence, 
the grim fact that this is 190- and not two cen- 
turies ago. 

Nature loves to spin us around in a sudden 
fashion that is startling but wholesome, if not 
pleasant; and out of the airy realm of fancy 
face us toward a stem fact. It was so with me 
to-day. I saw a large portion of a tree encased 
in clay. Not silicified, but woody enough to 
bum, when dry, and yet it has been in this bed 
of clay for, who can tell, how many centuries. 
If the day is cretaceous, a cautious geologist 

275 



The Rambles of an Idler 



will say for more than a million years! How 
easy to write these words: how difficult to get 
any real conception of what they mean I This 
prostrate tree-trunk did not grow alone ; it was 
one of many; of a forest that flourished before 
men were, and when the lord of creation was a 
gigantic lizard. **The dust we tread upon was 
once alive.'' No one questions this, but how 
few consider what one-time living worlds are 
beneath us all the while ! A forest full of liz- 
ards, and streams with sharks, and shallow 
bays with creatures grim beyond words. We 
do not let our minds out when we pick up a 
fossil; do not conjure up a picture of its day, 
its habitat and surroundings ; its associates and 
the daily routine of its existence. I have heard 
the remark: Who cares for what happened a 
million years ago? The fool, forever rooting 
in the filth of the present, hoping to smell out a 
dollar, does not, that is certain. 

An empty mill-pond, ay ! and an empty head 
who sees nothing in it but space that should be 
filled with water. The world is nowhere empty. 
The void we deplore is really 'twixt our scalp 
and eye-balls, when we chatter in such fashion. 
The whole story of this empty mill-pond will 

276 



From Pillar to Post 

r 



never be told. Life is too short. Its opening 
chapter deals with time so distant we cannot 
conceive it, and not a day has since been lost. 
Nature's diary is no petty note-book. Man fig- 
ures no more largely in it than a rock or a tree. 

Again an autumn day to be remembered. 
Some small words are to many a large thought 
like the trigger to the gun; speak the one or 
pull the other and great results follow. An 
autumn day ! He must be stolid indeed who is 
not moved by the mere mention of it. A day, 
this, that comes all too seldom; a mellow day, 
like to a perfected apple, as fair to the touch 
as to the taste; and thus it happened, in my 
walk, that I was stayed by the ruins of an old 
spring-house. It is rare good luck to have an 
autumnal and atavic day in one. This is what 
remains of a spring-house my great-grand- 
father built. Who lined the spring with peb- 
bles, whether red man or white, I do not know, 
but Indians knew these sparkling waters well. 
The ashes of their camp-fires are not yet scat- 
tered to the winds. Potsherds are still abun- 
dant in the surrounding soil. But these people 
have had their day and may joy go with them; 

277 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I am concerned with those who followed. They 
were fine days, I fancy, when folk lived just a 
little nearer Nature. The cool butter and the 
sweet milk that came from the spring-house, 
where never a breath of summer entered, were 
better, I am sure, than the frozen fat and for- 
maldehyded milk of to-day. Artificiality has 
its place, and ice in summer is a blessing; but 
there is no need to pity those who had a spring- 
house near the kitchen. Food then was whole- 
some, and no question concerning it could arise. 
Looking over an old letter, I find a descrip- 
tion of a home-coming dinner. Served now, 
some people might rebel. No fancy foreign 
dishes, nor even ice-cream ; but there was whole- 
some beef, fresh-killed chicken, home-grown 
vegetables with all the sweetness Nature had 
packed into them, sugar-preserved fruit and 
syllabub; and what needed to be cool was 
brought straight from the spring-house with 
the coolness of a bubbling spring and an un- 
tainted atmosphere about it. How could our 
forbears have done without modem conven- 
iences? is often asked. Well, they did, but that 
which fore-ran what we now have met every real 
need. Our grandfathers never went hungry, 

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Prom Pillar to Post 



and did not know, as we do, about loss of appe^ 
tite. Nearer to Nature : that is the whole secret. 

Sitting on the trunk of a prostrate tree, an 
old chestnut that once shaded half this pretty 
spot, I recalled this day, a century ago. Some 
of the nearby trees were then standing. The 
outlook has suffered no serious change. Even 
the stone-paved pathway from the kitchen door 
is not yet gone. The heavy air dulls the sounds 
of the busy to-day and the more leisured yes- 
terday of 1804 comes back, for leisure entered 
largely into existence then. Not idleness, but 
unperturbed occupation. Those were days of 
healthy, not fevered, activity; and, I notice, 
they built their houses and bridges of stone, and 
they still stand. Those were days of oak, not 
hemlock, and the spring-house before me would 
not be a ruin, had not man deliberately de- 
stroyed it in part. 

Deliberate days, then. Here is an extract 
from an old letter: *'How extremely disap- 
pointed were we this morning in not receiving 
a letter. So anxious were we to hear. Mother 
arose very early and went up to Trenton to 
breakfast. We were informed the packet from 
the Springs was to be in last night. We have 

279 



The Rambles of an Idler 



concluded it was not neglect of thine in not 
writing, but that of the postmaster in not send- 
ing any letters to Newark before the mail there 
closed, which we hear is often the case/* Post- 
masters took the world easy then, even if it did 
disturb others somewhat, on rare occasions. 
What a rumpus is kicked up, now, if a letter is 
delayed! Surely we do things better in these 
advanced days. No one gets up before break- 
fast to get a letter. It is left at his door. All 
true, but here is another letter, from which I 
extract: ** There was wild confusion in the 
middle of the night on fourth day last, the dogs 
barking furiously, and then we had Washington 
— ^not the General — shouting like mad. We 
were all quickly astir, and father and brother 
John were out, half -clad, in response to Wash- 
ington's call for help. I got there, too, some- 
how, and such a sight 1 A wild-cat had squeezed 
its way into the spring-house and the dog kept 
it from escaping. Such a sight, I say, but fun- 
niest of all, Washington had put one foot en- 
tirely through a milk pan, and, it being pretty 
dark, he was kicking at it with his free foot as 
frantically as if the cat itself was fastened to 
his leg. Poor Nero suffered from the beast's 

280 



From Pillar to Post 



claws, and father thinks he should be killed, 
but we all say No, and are nursing him by turns. 
He is a queer-looking dog, in bandages, but very 
patient, and I am sure quite understands what 
it all means. I came near forgetting to say that 
the cat escaped and we are afraid now to go, 
after dark, over to neighbor Pearson's.'* 

A wildcat in the spring-house ! Here we are 
getting close to Nature, and who can say that 
country-life since then has not suffered! We 
have refrigerators now, it is true, and Tabby 
puts her nose in, it may be, if the door is left 
ajar, but a wildcat in the spring-house ! We of 
to-day are all too late. We missed much by not 
reaching the earth earlier. 

Here is an extract from still another letter, 
written ninety years ago : ''Jane came rushing 
into the kitchen, a little after dark, quite out of 
breath and declaring between gasps that she 
had seen a ghost. Father laughed and said he 
would like to see it, but Jane would not go out, 
so father and I went to the spot as she directed 
us. I tell thee beforehand I never want to see a 
real live ghost. What father and I saw was 
quite suflScient. The moon was shining through 
the misty air and a great white object moved to 

281 



The Rambles of an Idler 



and fro directly across the narrow path between 
the great oaks near the stile. I confess to shud- 
dering when I saw it, and father did not walk 
bravely, to say the least. Then we came to a 
stand when a great owl hooted. I wanted to 
turn back, but father said No, and yet did not 
move forward. What would have happened I 
do not know, but just then the moon shone out 
more brightly and we saw that it was a great 
cobweb covered with dew. Then father chuckled 
to himself and we came back to the house. I 
am glad it proved no * stubborn unlaid ghost,* 
as Milton has it, but I fear Jane can never be 
convinced.'* 

It is never a serious task to find a Garden of 
Eden. Only our unreasonableness blinds us 
when the search is made. No flaming swords 
warn us to keep away from Earth's prettiest 
spots, and if Adam had a nobler tree than my 
meadow hickory under which to nest, or a fairer 
outlook than the long line of wooded bluflp con- 
fronting me, then he had more than he could 
appropriate. There was no richer green then 
than Nature now provides, nor any more grace- 
ful or intricate an arrangement of bloom and 

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foliage. The line of beauty is older than the 
world. Doubtless there was more beauty in 
Adam's garden than in my own, but not greater 
beauty. We have perfection at hand when we 
can discover no blemish, and so, this blessed 
October day, the meadow is a Garden of Eden, 
and I have no regret that the site of the older 
one has been long forgotten. The cursing of 
the grounds beyond its confines was local, not 
circumambient. Were there better things here, 
man would have to be better to enjoy them. My 
meadow hickory meets all my needs ; within the 
range of its refreshing shade the world is 
Edenic. I am not troubled because Adam lost 
his garden. That was so long ago, regret no 
longer dims the sunshine of the soul ; and here 
I have a garden that calls for no improvement. 
Content transfigures the desert. 

It is not within the range of descriptive pow- 
er to make plain to another all that goes to the 
making of a perfect day. What, indeed, is a 
''perfect day"? The Eskimo would curse 
roundly at many such as we consider nonpareil. 
The tropic islander pictures Sheol as a land, of 
ice. Where, I would ask, is the imperfection of 
any day? The cyclone is an ugly thing to meet 

283 



The Rambles of an Idler 



if we are unprepared ; tempests and tornadoes 
are not children's playthings, but they have 
their points of interest to a healthy man. Na- 
ture is something more than ^* sweet sixteen, '' 
and man should, be above forever dangling 
about this pretty but not thought-stimulating 
phase of creation. 

There is no lack of the Edenic in the world, 
and the flaming sword that guarded sacred 
places has long been sheathed; but there is lack 
of ability to discover them. Thorns and this- 
tles are as easily handled as gossamer or feath- 
ers if we have acquired the art, and it is not 
the fault of thistles or thorns if we remain ig- 
norant. We are forever protesting against the 
consequences of our own ignorance, but it would 
be well to remember that thorns and thistles 
have been longer on the earth than man, as the 
rocks testify; and to assert that their purpose 
is to render our lives miserable is the climax 
of silliness. I do not know why the truth should 
be forever suppressed and our vision distorted 
by the whims of ignorance. 

That is a perfect day when we can meet it on 
equal terms, and that man's condition ap- 
proaches to ideal health and strength when the 

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beauty of the day's purpose is made plain to 
him who faces Nature in her most exaggerated 
moods. The driving rain, the sullen blast, the 
crashing of branches yielding to the storm, are 
too full of meaning to be ignored, yet personal 
comfort usually controls and we are blind to 
all that happens about us. Huddled in our 
dens, we scarcely peep out of the holes until 
some confiding thrush announces that the skies 
are clear. Every day is perfect of its kind, and 
those people are lacking who are equal to only 
one sort of day. We can have our Eden any- 
where, and we are not to be despoiled unless we 
elect to permit it. Demonstrate your unfitness, 
and the penalty of violating the laws of com- 
mon-sense will be your portion. Perhaps Adam 
deserved to be turned out, — it is an open ques- 
tion, — ^but he need not have been plagued with 
thorns and thistles had he been what man is 
capable of being. 

The advantage of the Eden of to-day is that 
all restrictions on our curiosity are removed. 
We can taste of every fruit and are urged to 
do so. Our limitations of knowledge are due to 
our laziness. We are treated more fairly than 
Adam the first. 

285 



The Rambles of an Idler 



I well remember one hot August day when 
all the world seemed bathed in molten brass, a 
day suggestive of eosmical catastrophe, of sail- 
ing in the wake of a consuming planet, when a 
universal shooting up of flames would not sur- 
prise us; and here, at such a time, I found a 
cool, sweet spot where the shaded brook laughed 
as it hurried towards the outside world. It was 
a trifle of the temperate clime enclosed by the 
tropics. I found it, tarried, and was happy. 
Moral: Look for an Eden wherever you are, 
and the chances are you will find it. It is only 
a hopeless quest when you are persistently un- 
reasonable, and reject ice when it is not as hard 
as flint, or scorn a quartz crystal because it is 
not a diamond. Paste can be very pretty, al- 
though but paste. Put it to no severer test than 
the eye brings to bear upon it, and the sense of 
vision will be pleased. Everywhere the world 
is graded from diamonds to paste, and why re- 
ject the latter and be miserable? Paste has its 
part to play, and had better be allowed to play 
it well than for us to rebel because it is not a 
diamond. As if the hillock should hide itself 
because there is a mountain in the distance. 

Eden is bounded only by the limits of the 
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sphere. Adam lacked wisdom so far as not to 
consider fully the advantage at hand before 
seeking greater ones beyond his reach. Con- 
tent our weapon, we may laugh at flaming 
swords. Eden is ours if we elect to move for- 
ward and possess it. 

If all was good and fair we met, 
This earth had been the Paradise. 

I should keenly regret this sentiment being 
accepted universally as good philosophy. I do 
not think it is philosophical at all. What is not 
good as we view it is so because we view it 
wrongly. The fault is in ourselves. What is 
truly uglyf Our imperfect vision makes many 
a straight line crooked, and twists to unseemly 
angles the curve of beauty. All ugliness is in 
ourselves. I love the earth too dearly to hear 
it maligned. 

If all were good, goodness would cease to be. 
It is a comparative condition, and rational en- 
joyment consists in appreciating that what is 
might be less, as we would have it. Had we no 
recollection of sour, unripe fruit, we would lose 
the delight of eating fruit that is perfect. Just 
in proportion as we take the affairs of life as 

287 



The Bambles of an Idler 



matters of course, do we cease to realize their 
goodness. 

This is equally tme of what we see. Nothing 
is easier than to defend ugliness successfolly. 
Let me bring this home in a painfully direct 
way. Does loveliness depart as the cruel years 
hurry by? Where is that charming face whidi 
captured the heart when youth was at the hehnf 
Time has writ wrinkles where the brow was 
once as polished marble, but does the lover 
cease to be a lover because of itf Has the 
charm fled? Does the word "ugly" even enter 
into the mind? Such things have been, I admit, 
but the imperfection of man in sudi a case is 
abnormal. All else is perfect or marvelously 
near it. Man alone is yet in a formative stage, 
and this is his sole excuse for the ugliness that 
is in him and found nowhere else. Falling 
short of what he ought to be, he cries out 
"ugly" at whatever he fails to realize in its full 
significance. "Ugly" is but the echo of man's 
deficiency. 

The rotting carcass fills us with disgust. All 
our senses are sickened when we face such an 
object ; but let chemistry come to our aid, and, 
while we may still be desirous of avoiding the 

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process, what transpires is the very essence of 
poetry, the reincarnation of what now cumbers 
the ground. A rotting carcass ! How the very 
mention of it moves us to shudder ! But in due 
time that body will reappear as the vigorous 
tree, the beautiful flower, the green grass; no 
longer an entity, but its parent dust mingled 
with the dust of the earth, the mother of all 
things, that now gives it a new birth, as beau- 
tiful as before. Consider the purpose, also the 
ultimate result. The painter's palette wearies 
the eye ; the tubes with their pigments that are 
slowly vomited forth are Ladly repelling to a 
sensitive soul : be patient. That same soul will 
be enraptured when the canvas is ready for his 
eye. 

A certain Dr. John Lightfoot, very learned in 
his day, so it is said, decided and announced 
that Eden and the rest of the world were cre- 
ated B.C. 4004, October 23, at nine a.m. This 
then, is the five thousand nine hundred and 
ninth anniversary, and nowhere can it be bet- 
ter celebrated than at the foot of the meadow 
hickory. Why? Because I am satisfied. I am 
celebrating the day. For music, I have the 
songs of many birds ; for applause, the cawing 

289 



The Rambles of an Idler 



of crows; as to speech-making, that is my af- 
fair. To my neighbor this date has no special 
significance, which is fortunate, for there is 
nothing in this world that is not ruined by a 
crowd, not even an anniversary. 

Better, on such a day as this, to be audience 
than actor. There is something in the air sug- 
gestive of a holiday. The regular course of 
affairs appears to have been set aside. Birds 
whistle with the animation of children at a pic- 
nic. It is not a day to listen to anyone who 
discourses on physics or mentions ozone. If 
one man can bring himself to believe this is the 
day and date of creation, why should not an- 
other play the fool and keep up the farce? 

Seated at the foot of this old hickory, I call 
the place Eden because at this moment the sky 
is blue. This alone is cause for thankfulness. 
There are masses of white clouds anchored in 
the east, castles, hills, meadows, and strange 
shapes of an airy world, white as new-fallen 
snow and tinged with pink, — a picture that can 
never tire, fancy weaving a new story of it all 
when next we look. 'Twixt cloudland and the 
earth sail, in wide-reaching circles, red-tailed 
hawks. Birds, these, prosy enough, nearer at 

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hand, but each a stanza, now, in the poem : Oc- 
tober. Still nearer, the bluebird, telling over 
the joys of long summer days or carrying the 
message of the frosty air, making merry over 
the past, finding nothing but happiness in the 
present. The song of the bluebird straightens 
many a crooked line as we listen. All the snakes 
in the meadow may hiss at once, but the blue- 
bird's voice will be heard above them. By so 
much my Eden of to-day is in advance of the 
Eden of old. 

The tall growths of the weedy marsh are 
stately still. They have grown gray, and many 
a seared blossom is a sad reminder of departed 
strength, but the dignity of age remains. The 
reed, the mallow, and the rank wild rice have 
the art of growing old gracefully, something 
too often neglected among mankind. Clustered 
in the marsh, they were but the homes of sum- 
mer birds when I last saw them, but now they 
invite to individual inspection and stand the 
test of my exacting mood. The marsh-wrens 
have departed and the king-rail and little bit- 
tern no longer skulk in the weedy wilderness, 
but I have no feeling as of one wandering 
through a deserted house. The guests are gone, 

291 



The Bambles of an Idler 



but the host remains. Thon^ bent with the 
weight of days, many a prond plant is excellent 
company. Suggestive friends are as desirable 
as omnmnnicative ones. Who has not known 
the latter to say too mndi? The marsh is not 
''oi>en'' only for a season. The summer gnests 
are gone, bnt as noble a company of antmnn 
friends have come or are coming. How, then, 
can all things Edenic be ever wanting? My 
friends, the birds, are never absent long. Sit- 
ting by the marsh, I join with the plants and 
play the part of host Though its leaves are 
falling, the noble hickory is no less a tree, and 
brown meadows are as firm and upholding as 
when grass was green. Birds are singing, too. 
The lark, the redwing, and the crested tit an- 
nounce the goodness of all they see, but no- 
where do we find evidence of a world begun. 
All points to maturity. The present Eden never 
flashed into being in October. 

Hidden from the truth-telling out-door world 
by walls of musty tomes, I fancy I can see the 
learned Dr. Lightf oot delving industriously for 
the fact that in grotesque shape finally made 
him ridiculous. Let us turn from so sad a sight 
and have the meadows again before us. Such 

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an outlook never leads, us astray. Eden in Oc^ 
tober, but not a n^w-bom one. An autumnal 
Elysium here, now, this twenty-third of Octo- 
ber, but no trace of the beginning of such glory 
remains. The forest with its crimson banners 
is a retreating, not an advancing host. What 
was promised has been accomplished, and this 
is the theme to-day of all rejoicing. If there be 
Edens and Edens, not a single one, that being 
long lost, then grade them as to character only, 
for their value is the same. There is that Eden 
created every bright May morning: there is the 
Eden of an October day. 

Paradise was not for a brief space and never 
to return. The world is a series of short-lived 
creations. Paradise is daily lost, perhaps ; but, 
if you so desire, it is also, daily, Paradise re- 
gained. 

Shall I call thee Bird 
Or but a wandering voice f 

The echo is seldom as distinct as the original 
sound and not every October day is even sug- 
gestive of summer. At its best, the month is 
something more than imitative. It has charac- 
teristics all its own. Quiet enthusiasm, so at- 

293 



The Rambles of an Idler 



tractive to those not young, finds fittmg hours 
in the tempered sunshine. Life is less a mys- 
tery. The frost has cleared the air and we see 
more clearly what the round year means. The 
yellow leaves point backward, and thought, in 
October, is prone to travel in that direction. 
Nature's activity is on the wane. Few are the 
singing birds, but many the wandering voices 
in the air. Whatever the time of year, there is 
a marked difference between forenoon and aft- 
ernoon. It needs no knowledge of the sun's 
position to tell the hour. Meridian passed^ 
there is that lessening of activities so sugges- 
tive of Nature taking a post-prandial nap. I 
speak only of clear, sun-lit days, when the few 
cloud-masses, drifting overhead, pass by un- 
heeded. 

This is a perfect day. There is no speck or 
flaw upon it. He who would search for a blem- 
ish is not worthy of the dregs of earth. There 
is gossamer now, but no cobwebs. The grass 
glistens; the dead leaves are not dingy, and 
what beauty they have is not concealed. What- 
ever is, is best of its kind. It is now October, 
not May. A ripe day, not a green, maturing 

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one. We have had our roses; now it is the 
ruddy cheek of the apple. A fair exchange, 
and we do not return empty handed from a 
ramble. I remember the beautiful blossom of 
the oak and am equally pleased with the pol- 
ished acorn. I recall the frail flowers that 
could be only looked upon, but many a berry 
and seed pod now can be handled safely. The 
sense of touch is gratified. In May we discover 
beauty; in October we carry it home triumph- 
antly. 

Mid-afternoon now, and all things idle. Even 
the lithe branches of the weeping willow move 
only in their dreams. The passing breeze dis- 
turbs nothing in its path. Quiet prevails ; not 
one distracting sound reaches me, yet there is 
not absolute silence. As when a long-forgotten 
song comes back to us, and another day is pic- 
tured in the miad, I hear a few, faint, uncon- 
nected notes, a fragment of springtide music. 
I look in vain for the bird that utters it. Every 
tree and bush beneath it is alike deserted. I 
hear a wandering voice. 

As deftly as the skilled musician touches the 
keys of the piano or draws the bow across the 

295 



The Rambles of an Idler 



respondent strings, this wandering voice plays 
upon the heart and opens np the fnlhiess of onr 
lives. The ecstatic minstrelsy of May thrilled 
youth to the pitch of madness. It was a joy to 
live in the heyday of the year's energy, bnt not 
less so now. Sadness finds no welcome. A 
wandering voice replaces the singing bird, bnt 
the change is not to be regretted. We can pic- 
ture in the October landscape all the roses of 
June and be blind, the while, to their investing 
thorns. 

Life is to be measured by its results and not 
by the energy expended. So with the year. The 
hurried procession of aestival bloom; the trees 
and shrubs and annual upstart weeds with end- 
less intricate patterns of green leaves; the 
grand chorus of the struggle for supremacy, if 
not existence — ^the bewildering tumult of the 
year in its youthful days; of all this we can 
think now, discussing each separate merit at 
leisure, and live over again such moments as we 
choose. It is the fitting employment of such -an 
afternoon as this; thought's harvest hour. 

The sudden appearance, momentary stay and 
abrupt departure of single migrating birds is a 

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From Pillar to Post 



feature of an October afternoon that is full to 
the very brim with delightful significance. We 
find such birds set down in the text books as 
** stragglers," thus giving as mean an impres- 
sion as possible, and, worse than that, an incor- 
rect one. Late autumn migrants warrant no 
such conclusion as their being victims of some 
mishap. They fly with vigor, hold themselves 
erect and scan the prospect proud as Lucifer, 
and, better than all else, whistle a few bars of 
a merry tune, or warble in lower strain, as their 
mood directs. Such are these scattered birds 
when within the range of vision ; when not, then 
the no less suggestive wandering voices in the 
air. 

Assuming that we have been diligent until 
now and studied Nature since our year's out- 
ings commenced, we can now contemplate her 
as a whole and put by analysis until spring 
comes again. It is well to make such a change 
at the proper time. He misses much who can 
see a diamond only as a form of carbon. The 
sparkle of the crystal is lost, and our lives need 
the diamond's play of light and color as much 
as the body needs food. Sunshine resting on 
an autumn leaf should not be profaned by math- 

297 



The Rambles of an Idler 



ematical calculations. Life is weighted with 
plain prose and to spare; grant ns, at least, Ihe 
poetry of one October day. 

Within the range of my rambles there are 
few abmpt changes. I cannot recall any at 
present. October is not something new, sepa- 
rate and apart, but the summer's afterthought 
The last Turk's-cap lily had not fallen before 
golden rod brightened the dingy weeds along 
the roadside ; that was in August, and now crim- 
son leaves still cling to the maples, and scarlet 
creeper glows wherever it has found support 
for its sinuous, tangled growth. Color contin- 
ues, and what does it matter that it is not the 
bloom of youth, but the hectic flush prophetic 
of decay! October is better fitted for consid- 
ering color, per se, rather than its chemistry. 
The same is true of what we hear. Specific 
identification is too serious a subject to be 
undertaken now. It signifies nothing what 
bird sings or chirps. We hear a sound that 
shapes a day dream merely; the bird is forgot- 
ten ; we dally only with a wandering voice. 

So pass the idle hours of an October after- 
noon. Idle, yet full of significance; so fulj that 

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we think faster than when confronted by May's 
marshalling of facts. The spiritual element 
that is a reality and demonstrable, stands so 
prominently in the foreground that the founda- 
tion and material fabric are but dimly seen. 
This is the subtle charm that makes October 
memorable. It is hard, indeed, to be otherwise 
than materialistic early in the year ; it is more 
difficult not to be spiritual in autumn. The bird 
that sang so charmingly in May was, neverthe- 
less, of the earth, earthy ; not so to-day the wan- 
dering voice I hear. 

The fading light and lengthening shadows 
mark a change that brings us back to all things 
as they are. The hum of a million insects fills 
the air. Activity replaces idleness. The rocks 
are no longer softened by the golden haze, but 
are rugged, hard and cold again. The breeze 
freshens ; the falling leaves are hurried to the 
ground. The change is complete; the world is 
again to be considered as a fact and not con- 
templated as a fancy. 

The air hints of frost. A white mist, slowly 
rising from the marsh, loosens the hillocks from 

299 



The Rambles of an Idler 



their moorings, and now they are as islands 
dotting the surface of a new-bom lake. The 
owl is astir; the bat flits silently above the 
gloom. Activity increases. The cricket grows 
noisier as night draws near. Again, it is the 
busy world. Again, it is the old stmggle for 
gain, rather than the enjoyment of it. But why 
caret As I retrace my steps, following the old, 
familiar path, above the rustling of crisp 
leaves, above the roar of endless hosts of insect 
life, I hear a wandering voice. 



300 



INDEX 



Abbott's Landing, 1 

Accentor, Insistent, 67, 172 

Accidents, 188 

Acorns, 234 

Adversity, virtue of, 256 

-^}sop, quoted, 260 

Age, advance of, 152 

Almanacs, 130, 133 

Angling, 187 

Animal Intelligence, 171, 176 

Animals, enemies of, 210 

Antipodes, dwellers at, 246 

Apples, 198", 227 

Apple-tree, 61 

Archeologists, 113 

Aristotle, 4 

Arrow-points, 113, 166, 175 

Artificiality, 62 

Assunpink Creek, 7 

Aster, 233 

Atlantic Ocean, 70 

Atmosphere, ** colonial," 164 

Attics, 97, 164 

Authors, originality of, 116 

Authorship, 122 

Azalea, pink, 62, 165, 170 

Bacon, quoted, 256 
Bats, 98 
Bear, 248 
Beaver, 248 
Beeches, 95, 154, 233 

*' Three," 85 
Bidens, 261 



301 



Birds, since 1874, 149 
" quarrels among, 183 
" songs of in winter, 149 
" young, enemies of, 83 

Bittern, great, 80 
little, 251 

Blackberry pie, 106 

Bladderwort, 180 

Blizzard of 1888, 52 

Blue-bird, 52, 102, 135, 142, 
149, 151, 226, 271, 263 

Bluet, 166, 170, 233 

Blue- jay, 135, 225, 237 

Bobolink, 263 

Bobwhite, 270 

Books, modern, 117 

Botanists, 114 

Bowlders, 233 

Bugbears, 122 

Bugs, aquatic, 252 

Buttercup, 62, 170 

Button-bush, 177 

Buttons, old, 166 

Cabbage, skunk, 68, 130 
Calendars, 115, 254 
Camp-fires, Indian, 277 
Candlesticks, Colonial, 99 
Candor, 160, 192 
Canton, China, 99 
Cardinal, 101, 135, 142, 151 
Catbird, 66, 90, 101, 166 
Cedar, 6 
Cellars, 97 



Index 



Chat, 69, 165 
Cherry, wild, 106 

" wood, 6 
Chestnut, 217 
Chickadee, viii, 237 
Chipmunk, 250, 253 
Cicada, 103 
Clamor of Crowds, 136 
aayt<Hiia, 233 
Clouds, 290 
Cobwebs, 34 
Colonial dinner, 278 
Colonists, English, 216 
Columbine, 62 
Comets, 4, 82 
Common sense, 185 
Cone flower, 261 
Cram, W. E., quoted, 74 
Crane's bill, 170 
Creeper, black and white, 172 
Cretaceous day, 275 
Cricket, black, 300 
leaf, 104 

« mole, 106 
Crosswicks Creek, 188 
Crow-blackbirds, 49 
Crows, 124, 127, 135, 252, 263 
Crystals, 4 

life of, 42 
Cuckoo, 108 
Cynthia, 89 
Cypripediums, 235 

Dandelion, 56, 165 
Darkness, disadvantages of, 

155 
Dewdrops, 268 
Dirt, real nature of, 160 
Dodder, 261 
Dogwood, 139 
Druids, 221 
Dutch settlers, early, 248 



Eagle, bald, 215 

Ecclesiastes, 117 

Eden: Past and Present, 282 

Electricity, 162 

Elm, 114, 184, 217 

" insect foes of, 154 
Elysian field, 163 
Emerson, quoted, 230, 271 
Entomologists, 114 
Erebus, 156 
Erigeron, 89 
Eskimos, 43, 283 
Eupatorium, 261 

Ferns, 174 
Fiddle-heads, 174 
Finch, thistle, 104 
Fish-hawk, 215 
Fish, tree-climbing, 222 
Fishes, diurnal, 181 

" intelligence of, 181 

" nocturnal, 181 
Flies, 241 
Floods, glacial, 261 
Flycatcher, great — crested, 

103 
Flycatchers, 214 
Foot-prints, 249 
Forest floor, 231 
Forerunners, our, 147 
Fortinbras, 81 
Fossil wood, 275 
'* Freshet of '41,'' 8 
Frogs, 80, 137, 146, 237 
Frost, 299 
Furnishings, household, old, 

99 
Furniture, old, 4 

Garden of Eden, 282 
Geologists, timidity of, 110 



302 



Index 



Golden rod, 233 
Gossamer, 37 
Grakles, purple, 49, 252 
Grape, 105 
Grasshopper, 252 
Green-brier, 105 
Grosbeak, rose-breasted, 54 

60, 164, 254 
Gmn tree, 217, 266 

Hamadryad, 86 
Hamlet, 81 
Hare, 259 

Hawk, scream of, 57 
Hawks, 135, 245 
Heart's Ease, 146 
Heron, green, 84 

*' night, 80, 168 
Hickory, 290 
Hornbeam, 239 
Hornet, nest of, 75 
Huckleberries, 235 
Humming birds, 174 
Hyla, 134 
Hylodes, 134 

Idea, new, what constitutes, 

120 
Idleness, v 
ni-luck, 255 
Inanimate objects, perversity 

of, 185 
Indians, 30, 113, 165, 175, 211, 

216, 233, 248, 272, 277 
Indian summer, 274 

" relics, 165, 175 
Indigo finch, 102 
Iris, 89 



Kalm, Peter, quoted, 78 
Katy-did, 104, 230 
Keats, quoted, 239 
King-bird, 102, 263 
King-fisher, 179 

Leaves, second growth of, 101 
Letters, old, quoted, 279 
Library, defined, 126 
Lightfoot, Dr. John, quoted, 

289 
Lily, pond, yellow, 180 
" turk's cap, 298 
" water, 165, 245 
Linden, 72 
Literature, 202 

« Aristotelian, 118 

** Emersonian, 118 

" Dantesque, 118 

" Darwinian, 118 

" Homeric, 118 

" modem, 118 

" Shakespearean, 

118 
Virgilic, 118 
Lobelia, scarlet, 261 
Lungwort, purple, 166 
Lysimachia, 89 



Jack-in-the-pulpit, 170 
Jeremiah, 117 
Job, 117 



Mallow, 261 

Man, enemies of, 210 

Maple, 105, 217 

March 21, significance of, 142 

Mastodon, 232 

Maurice River, 2 

Mayday, 55, 163 

May, wet days in, 63 

Meditations, peripatetic, 152 

Meeting house. Friends', 96 

Memory, grip of, 265 

" treachery of, 272 
Milfoil, 165, 180 

303 



Index 



Mink, 240 

Minnows, 239 

Misfortune, excellence of, 204 

Montana, 75 

Moose, 232 

Morning, an Alpine, 41 

Moss, 234, 236 

Mouse, field, 176, 210 
" meadow, 240, 251 
" white-footed, 226 
" yesper, 257 

Muskrat, 240, 248 

Nature, 153 

** number three in, 169 
" source of inspiration, 

117 
'* views of, 126 

Natural history, trustworthi- 
ness of, 212 

New Jersey, 64 

Night's Plutonian shore, 128 

November, nut-brown, 223 

Oak, chestnut-leaved, 222 
" Croeswicks', 32 
" insect foes of, 154 
" white, great size of, 221 

Oaks, Under the, 216 

Opossum, 226 

Oenothera, 89 

Originality, an ideal, 269 

Oriole, 257 

Ornithology, newspaper, 149 

Oven-bird, song of, 172 

Owls, 80, 157, 197 

Ownership, sense of, 244 

Oxygen, 162 

Ozone, 162 

Pan, 246 
Paradise, 4, 293 



304 



Peewee, wood, 102, 184 

Pensiemon, 89 

Perch, pirate, 181 

Persimmon, 217 

Pewter plates, 141 

Phlox, 89 

Pickerel weed, 165 

Pike, 211, 245 

Plantain, rattlesnake, 235 

Plant-life, submerged, 179 

Plants, aauatic, 165 

Plover, kiUdee, 135 

Pluto, 99 

Pope, Alexander, quoted, 243 

Poplar, Lombardy, 65 

Potsherds, 277 

Prayer Book quoted, 204 

Pumpkins, 258 

Quakers, 31 
Queen Anne, 275 

Rabbits, disease among, 228 
Raccoon, 248 
Rail, king, 291 
Rain, 161 

" -bow, 246 
Rattlesnake weed, 235 
Rats, 98 
Raven, 128 
Redstart, 170, 172 
Redwing, 53, 263 
Reed-bird, 203 
Reindeer, 232 
Rice, wild, 291 
Richelieu, 214 

Robins, 102, 135, 142, 149, 151 
Rocks, riddle of the, 110 
Rose-breasted grosbeak, 54, 60, 

164, 254 
Rushes, 229 



iH 



Index 



Sahara, desert of, 245 
Saints' Days, 254 
Salamanders, 237 
Sandpiper, 252 
Self-reliance, 271 
Senecio, 89 
Shellbark, 225 
Shelley, quoted, 89 
Shelter, 183 
Sheol, 283 
Skunk, 226 
Sleep, 137 
Snake, black, 156 

" water, 141 
Snakes, 140, 251 
Sneeze- weed, 261 
" Snow-flakes," 44 
Solitude, its merits, 58, 153 
Solomon, 117, 121 
Sparrow, English, 103, 182 
field, 80 

song, 101, 135, 149, 
151 
Sparrows, 28, 252 
Spatter-dock, 166 
Spice wood, 235, 240 
Spiders, 252 
Spring, commencement of, 133 

" flowers of, 143 

" poets, 148 
Squirrel, flying, 80 
Squirrels, 176, 228, 237 
Star of Bethlehem, 165 
Strawberry, wild, 169 
Sunfish, banded, 178 

" common, 178 
Sunflower, 261 
Sunrise, 190 
Swallows, 171 
Swedes, 248 



Terrapin, rough-backed, 174 

Thalictrum, 89 

Thoughts, company of one's, 

148 
Thoreau, quoted, 209, 244 
Thrush, 61, 69, 95, 101, 165, 

267 
Tit, crested, 27, 136 
Toad, tree, 105 
Toads, intelligence of, 157 
Tortoise, 259 
Trees, growth of, 71 

" old, 30 
Truth, 136 

" sacrifice of, 196 
Turtle, snapping, 180 
Turtles, 105, 174, 237 

Violet, white, 146 
Violets, 62, 143, 268 
Vireo, red-eyed, 69 

" warbling, 69 

" white-eyed, 102 
Voice, a wandering, 293 



Temperature, fall of, 75 



Walking, 4 

Warbler, Blackbumian, 171 
'' Canadian, 219 
" summer, 172 

Warblers, 164, 172, 226 

Weasel, 210, 240 
" voice of, 74 

Weather bureau, statistics of, 
65 

Weather wisdom, 137 

Web, spider, 241 

Wildlife, truthful, 197 
'' and weather, 69 

Willows, 106 

Windflower, 170 

Winter, end of, 130 
'' wreckage of, 164 

305 



Index 



Woodpecker^ golden-winged, Wren, marsh, 80, 291 

72 Wrens, 101 
Wren, Carolina, 107, 125, 127, 

131, 135, 142, 219 Yellow-jackets, 245 
Wren, house, 72, 75, 182 << -throat, Maryland, 172 



306 



COUNTWAY U»ARY 



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